Blog: Horse Logging, Community Woodlands and Me

Posted on February 1, 2018 by

For Barbara Haddrill working with horses has become a way of life, read about how she discovered horse logging, why it can really benefit community woodlands and some top tips on working with horses.

I never knew horse logging was even a job until about 10years ago.  It wasn’t my most obvious career path; working with two hefty cobs in a physically demanding role, but it is something which now defines my life and that I love.  It is a truly collaborative experience and can bring you fantastic job satisfaction.

I began my journey when I was working in conservation at The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth.  I had always loved horses but where I grew up it was all about pony clubs and quite exclusive, so when I started to learn how to drive horses with a friend who was thinking about setting up a horse drawn taxi company, a new world of working horses opened up to me.  Although the taxi idea didn’t take off it did lead me to training with at a horse drawn funeral business in Llandovery.

Horse logging ticked every box       

I was hooked and wanted to find out as much as I could about driving and working horses so I booked on a  week long horselogging course near Hereford. It was a week that changed my life; camping under an old oak tree,  cooking every meal over an open fire and spending all day long with the horses doing physical work outdoors. I realised I had pretty much every box I wanted in life ticked right there.

That week was back in 2007 – soon after I bought Tyler, my first cob and later followed Billy and Molly.  Cobs are native horses with good characters; they are economical and hardy, and good to work with.  Each horse is individual and part of the beauty and challenge of driving them is getting to know them and being able to work with them in a working relationship.    

Tyler has been a real pal to me over the years, anyone who has seen her working knows how hard she works and also how clever she is, she really understands the job and I am constantly amazed at her perception and ability to solve any tricky problem we find in the woods, and due to the type of woods we work in it is quite common to encounter tricky moments.

where we work 

Horses can work in any woodland environment, but these days it is usually hard for us to compete on a pure output cost with a machine. In the right situation we have many benefits that outweigh machinery – we don’t cause ruts or soil compaction or damage to remaining timber, so you won’t need to spend thousands repairing this damage nor putting in hard infrastructure, as we can work on soft ground and are the ultimate in 4×4!

We can weave in and out of the remaining stand with a  quick turn around and can out-compete a winch in selective thinning in many settings. Horses are recommended on plantation on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) as we gently scarify the ground and help to regenerate latent seed beds.  We also build up a relationship with the woodland owner sometimes over many years, so I get to appreciate the improvements we make.  We have worked the same wood for seven years for one client.  

benefits to community woodland 

There are also emotional advantages especially in a community woodland, as volunteers in groups can really relate to what we are doing as they have a personal relationship with their woodland.  Sometimes, it can just feel that it is better for the woodland to have the horses there. We can also be a great attraction to entice a surrounding community in to the woodland to find out what is going on, and maybe get involved.  

We can also mitigate felling; It is hard sometimes to get across the idea that trees need to be felled in a woodland to help with management or because they are diseased but bringing the horses in somehow enables us to hold that difficult conversation with people and Molly and Tyler also love having their photo taken and their nose stroked! 

who we work with

We usually work for conservation bodies or small woodland owners, where we work with them to develop a work plan, but horse loggers can work in any woodland and we have done a few more commercial (standing sale or tonnage rate) contracts. We are most productive if we take small to medium sized timber on short extraction distances on either flat or downhill terrain. We can pull up to about a tonne with my set up but a lot depends on the terrain and that would not be possible all day long up a steep hill.  There is a bit of an assumption we can do anything, or we get a call when all other extraction has failed.  Horses are very good at solving problems, if conditions are not perfect it just takes a bit of planning to make it as efficient as possible.

I would recommend any one who is thinking of using horses to speak to a horselogger in the planning stages of the work and to involve them in the felling of the trees.  Even if you do the felling yourself, getting a few tips from the horselogger can make it much easier for them to move the timber and will make their output greater (and their happiness levels higher!). For example,  we might prefer a tree to be felled in a certain direction and definitely love clean snedding and brash clearing. We can advise you on what the best length to cross cut the wood to increase efficiency, and save our shins too. There is a real art to extraction with horses and community woodland groups can learn some of this themselves when they see us in action.

being with my horses everyday makes me so happy 

It’s a job that is as varied as our Welsh weather;  when the sun is shining and we pull out lots of wood I know I have the best job on earth.  It is really satisfying to turn a pile of fallen trees into a tidy stack of timber. Being with my horses (and my dog Mabel) all day, every day makes me so happy. When I have a tricky pull that is steep or awkward and the horses listen to my every word, trust me and move together as a pair to enable me to hitch up and then pull their hearts out to get the log to the pile it makes me woop in joy. But, when it is pouring with rain and we are covered in mud,  some bit of kit has just broken, or it’s a tough stand –  I have been known to cry and long for a return to the office job.  That feeling doesn’t last long though – I reckon I will be doing this job as long as I my body lets me.  

Barbara is hosting a five day horse logging course at Coed Llwynonn in Anglesey, April 2-6th, that will also cover traditional woodland skills.

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