A Clydesdale or a Ferguson – a matter of choice? Part 2

From his series, Records of a Bygone Age, by Ian Cooper and republished here with kind permission of The Stronsay Limpet.

Last month we left this tale with Jim Work, late of Holland, reminiscing on his days with the heavy horse. Strangely, one of the most abiding memories of Jim’s was of going out to ‘supper the horse’ before going off to bed. He told of how going out to the stable on a night of wind and rain should have been quite a thought but being in the stable, which was usually quite warm with the heat from the horses, watching and listening to these big shining beasts as they ate their hay while the wind howled at the door was somehow very relaxing.

My cousin, Jim Cooper from Cleat, was a few years older than me and seemed to have made the transition from horse to tractor with nary a thought, although he did occasionally speak fondly of some of his memories of the Cleat horses. It was Jim, at the age of 13 or 14, who was sent off to the Smiddy with a Clydesdale to get new shoes fitted. He had no problem with taking charge of a horse that towered above him but his only concern was that he wasn’t too sure where the Smiddy was!

Dave Croy, who farmed at the Smiddy for many years, was very much one of the old school of horsemen who shed a tear to see their beloved heavy horses no longer needed or wanted. He also had a gift as a poet and wrote and recited poetry, usually in a humorous vein, at island events for many years. When Dave retired he and his wife Nan moved to Forres to live but still kept in touch with his old friends in Stronsay and also, on occasion, sent some of his poetry back to Stronsay. The following short poem about Meg, the Auld Mare, was written by Dave while in more poignant mood. This and the two following responses should be read in sequence:

Meg, the Auld Mare

Oh! The auld mare, the auld mare wha though her teeth were few
A bonnie lass wi’ chestnut mane and harness bright as new.
Her collar and her saddle they still hang upon the peg
And many a time I gae a sigh for my old faithful Meg.
Oh! The Ferguson, the Daavid Broon I widna clap or praise
They canna live on neeps an strae or oot contented graze.
They dirl and reek fae morn tae night; for peace and quiet I beg.
They canna even hae a foal like good old faithful Meg.
The tractor it does proodly stand in bonnie Maggie’s sta’.
We’ve never seen a straight drawn fur since auld Meg died awa’.
In winter time in miry grund she’d sha’ her powerful leg
And never wance her wheels did spin; remember faithful Meg.

Jim Cooper from Cleat, who was a good friend of Dave’s and also a fellow poet, penned a response to Dave along with an invitation for Dave and Nan to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the South End Men’s Club due to be held on 7th March 1980:

The Merits of the Tractor

Dear Dave, I write you twa three lines; I write of course in jest
On the merits o’ your mare called Meg I feel I must protest.
To ferm the day is a different job; no way could one survive
On a horse that had no plooing light, disc brakes or power drive.
“A bonnie beast” I hear you say as ower the field she frolics

But the question I must surely ask; “Where, where are her hydraulics?”
There’s another problem to cause you worry;
She must be fed or you’ll be sorry!
On oats and neeps and strae she’ll hae 
Three or four good meals a day.

The Fergie, Ford or Davie Broon with never a thought o’ shirking
Need only one square meal a day, and only when they’re working!
There’s little waste, it’s handy too;
‘twill oil the binder and the ploo
While Meg produces heaps and heaps 
O’ stuff that only can grow neeps.

“She’ll hae a foal” I hear you say; A useless piece of folly!
No doubt to end up with its pals upon some butcher’s trolley.
On wintry days, mid wind and rain, she’ll jerk along erratic;
No quiet cab to keep you warm nor steering – hydrostatic.

Those big flat feet between the drills destroy most o’ your crops.
No wireless you can plug in to hear ‘Top o’ the Pops’!
Forget about that mare called Meg and turn to Nan, your wife;
You’ll say “I never heard such bruck – no, never in me life!
Tae Stronsay isle we both will go for Easter; and forby
In the local hall on the 7th o’ March I’ll stand up and reply!

Dave readily accepted the invitation to the 50th Anniversary celebration and social and at that event was happy to stand up and recite Meg’s reply:

The Merits of the Heavy Horse

Noo Meg the mare would like to say the ground’s noo gaen tae ruin.
The tractors made such muckle tracks the grass is just like plooin!
She didno need a steering wheel; to Weesh and Hi she answered
and start and stop when she wis telt; her gears were easy mastered.

For diesel fumes we understand there is no known solution
But Meg’s exhaust I’ll tell you now has never caused pollution!
The manure costs are soaring high; now everyone can see.
A hundred pounds for just one ton of what Meg produces free!

That sorry day when oil runs done; the end of mechanisation
The heavy horse once more will save the world from mass starvation.
As Meg the mare steps silently, while tractors roar and racket 
With never ending deafening din your eardrums they’ll get crackit!

Noo heavy tractors are the cause; the drains are getting chockit.
It’s no just a’ the rain alone that’s emptying your pocket.
A word o’ advice to fermers noo when oil stocks are receding;
The heavy horse your answer is – it’s time you started breeding!

This was written more than 40 years ago but could it be more prophetic than Dave and Meg the mare realised at the time? I guess we must accept that we must move with the times and that the heavy horse will never return as before, but wish every success to those who continue to breed, work and show those magnificent animals.

If anyone has any information, anecdotes or photos about anything Stronsay related, I would be delighted to hear of it by emailing ian.cooper56@gmail.com

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