Clare inherited love of ‘gentle giant’ horses

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From trotting trams of visitors along Douglas seafront to competing in shows across Europe, Tynwald president Clare Christian’s home-bred Clydesdale and Shire horses are being put to good use.

Mrs Christian has continued in the footsteps of her father, the late Sir Charles Kerruish, by breeding the heavy horses at Ballaglass, in Maughold.

Mrs Christian with her Clydesdale, Garff Helga

Mrs Christian with her Clydesdale, Garff Helga

Her success was seen most recently at the Southern Agricultural Show, where her horses won an impressive eight classes, as well as the show’s highest award of Supreme Champion.

‘I was thrilled to bits,’ she said.

‘Horses don’t often win. Many people think they have nothing to do with agriculture any more.

‘On the other hand there’s lots of farmers who have diversified and are offering livery for horses.’

She described Garff Helga, her six-year-old Clydesdale mare who was named Supreme Champion – as ‘a bit of fairytale story’.

‘She was an orphan,’ she said.

‘Her mother died just a few hours after she was born.

‘We bucket fed her for a few days, and then another mare had a foal and we managed to get her to take both foals.’

Mrs Christian will be taking six of her horses to compete in the Royal Manx Agricultural Show on Saturday.

When asked about her chances of winning the double, she said: ‘I doubt it very much, it’s such a rare occurrence.’

Mrs Christian, who has the only Clydesdale stallion in the island, said the family’s biggest win was in 2003 when one of their Clydesdales won the Royal Highland Show, in Edinburgh.

Horses that she has bred and then sold on have won competitions outside of the UK, and they are owned by heavy horse lovers in countries including Sweden and Denmark.

Clydesdales – a native Scottish breed – are often described as gentle giants.

Mrs Christian, who described keeping the horses as both a business and a hobby, said that their training started early.

At three days old, a head collar will be put on the foals so they start to get used to being around people, and at the end of the first week, they will start to be led.

The amount of work involved in looking after the horses varies depending on the time of year.

When a mare is due to foal, Mrs Christian sets up a camera in the foaling box and links it to her bedroom so she can keep an eye on the mare.

While as it approaches summer show time, Mrs Christian and her helpers have more work to do grooming and washing the horses.

She said that, despite their preparations, they could be ‘upset’ on the show ground because they are often experiencing new sights and sounds for the first time.

‘It’s a very different environment,’ she said.

The rise of the tractor in farming led to a decline in the number of Clydesdales as they were replaced by mechanical power.

In 1975, the Clydesdale was categorised by the Rare Breed Survival Trust as ‘vulnerable’.

Over the years and with the increase in breed numbers, the breed is now categorised as ‘at risk’.

This year, three foals – two Clydesdales and a Shire – were born at Mrs Christian’s yard.

In other years, there have been as many as seven new arrivals.

‘We’ve done our bit to preserve the Clydesdale,’ she said.

She believes it’s important that the hardy breed is not allowed to die out.

‘The world’s genetic pool needs to be preserved,’ she said.

Following on from her father, her Shires all have the prefix ‘Ballafayle’ after the name of his farm while her Clydesdales have ‘Garff’, after the political constituency he represented.

She also continued the naming tradition further by using characters from the Icelandic Sagas which the former Tynwald president liked to read.

‘I inherited the horses, she said.

‘I thought that rather than change what was familiar to people, it was best to keep the prefixes the same.’

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