I have just returned from helping the British Horse Loggers at the Association of Professional Foresters (APF) show, where we were running the European Horse Logging Championships. It was really exciting to see the best horse loggers from different European nations competing against some of our home grown talent. A team of excellent horsemen, women and their horses came from the Czech Republic, where there are over 800 professional horseloggers working. (This compares to about 20 in the UK). They work really hard on tight tonnage rates and are serious about the quality of their working horses. Only the best in terms of genetics and temperament are allowed to be worked and bred from and a lot of people work stallions (something of a no no with many people in the UK). But if we are to maintain a high standard of working horses we need to have a high standard of native mares and stallions to breed from. Other excellent horsemen came from Germany and it was interesting to compare their different harness and set-up for equipment. All the horses had to complete an obstacle course, which represented real life working situations in the woodland. There was a water obstacle, stacking and loading tasks as well as tests for accuracy and finesse in driving skills and working the horse on voice command alone. All helping to demonstrate how horses are a low-impact method of timber extraction.
Looking around the whole of the APF show was an important thing for all of us horseloggers to do, so I dragged myself away for an afternoon. I know that horses are one small part of a huge, mostly mechanised, industry and we mustn’t forget that. But we are not an old-fashioned and defunct way of forestry, we must work to our special niche; in close confined spaces, where there is sensitive, wet or otherwise difficult terrain and where we can out-compete on short runs, and we need to be competitive with our pricing. It is hard to make a living in forestry full stop and in horselogging even more so. But for me it was great to share a few days with people who are just like me, they love working with their animals in the woodland, to do a good job and work hard to offer people a fair price. It is a way of life and a good one at that.