Charles Upham runs a stud near Bovey Tracey on what used to be the family dairy farm. He stands seven stallions, foals around 40 mares and has 150 mares visiting each year for covering. He also produces young horses for the show ring. In his first column for WMN Horses, he shares the trials and joys of his daily round...
Welcome to my first account of the day to day highs and lows, dips, troughs and gaping craters that make up life at Langaller Farm. You know the adage “it seemed a good idea at the time”? Well, that is precisely my thinking right now as I stare at a blank screen wondering what to write. I am nothing if not honest and so this column will be a “warts and all” account. Always assuming I learn to type, that is!
I doubt that it has escaped anyone’s notice that we are currently experiencing a very wet time, and my sympathies go out to anyone suffering from flooding, or worse still trying to lamb in this deluge. Luckily we have escaped any serious damage here which is curious as the house is lower than the field opposite and the run off comes through the gate and past the front door. However, so long as nothing blocks up further downstream, it seems to work very well. And has done for the last 500 years!
Occasionally the main yard drain will block with silt and leaves, and in severe cases a couple of the lower barns will get shlooshed (if that’s a word?) out with muddy water. I say we’ve escaped without damage as I trust that no one saw me in just an overcoat, standing in water above my knees clearing the aforementioned yard drain by torchlight!
Because our land works so hard through the summer months, with visiting mares to stud and our own youngsters, our stock come into the yards the moment ground conditions dictate. Most of the barns are now fronted by open yards where we feed. It is a constant conundrum to me that when it’s blowing a hooley with driving rain the horses choose to stand in the open rather than take shelter inside. Far be it from me to question the size of an equine’s brain, but I don’t provide warm, dry buildings with plenty of expensive bedding for my benefit!
The first job in the first week of a new year is to vaccinate and swab the working stallions. Not only is it common sense but it is also compulsory for working stallions to be clean and free of contagious diseases. We insist that all mares coming to be covered at Langaller possess proof of the same standard of health. I have yet to hear of any valid reason for not adhering to this regime.
Once the “boys” are all set, then I like to glance into the yard diary and see when the first foal is due. Then close the diary again very quickly! Of course we know roughly when we start but seeing it written in black and white just confirms how many weeks are left before the broken nights start. By my reckoning we have another six weeks.
The earlier mares are brought out from the barns into individual stables and their feeding regime is stepped up gradually in preparation for parturition. I love that term “parturition”. It doesn’t really convey all the effort, huffing and expletives general to childbirth, does it? And that’s just the men! At least with the mild January we’ve been having, exercising the ridden horses hasn’t been that much of a challenge. Our young event stallion is well forward with his fitness programme. It really helps with young horses having older contemporaries to work with and they will automatically try to work upsides. It is a lovely feeling when they get fit enough to power up the hills, and they apparently feel the same as they snatch and jog in anticipation at the bottom of a nice, steady climb up one of our nearby Devon hills.
Another job for January is to update memberships and registrations of the horses we intend to show during the coming season. This year there are a couple of yearlings that we’ve yet to name. Naming is always a tricky game as the poor animal will be stuck with whatever you choose for the rest of its life. I do try, although some will say I fail regularly, to tie in his or her parentage or at least a lineage connection. It may not always be evident but it is generally there somewhere!
With January behind us now spring is just around the corner. As the old saying goes “February fill dyke”… oh dear!
Find out more at www.langallerfarm.co.uk.