Timber extraction by horse ---- Film and promotional work -- Horse logging courses Practical courses, five days long, conducted on a one to one basis on a working site

Our fully insured and experienced crew ensures quality work combining a traditional skill with modern sustainable forestry management- the natural way to work woodland

The advantages of using a professional horse logger to extract timber are;

- Selective thinning is economical as no extra trees are cut down than needed

-The low impact of horses leaves the forest floor in good condition

- No need for line thinning reduces risk of windblown trees

- Ensures your remaining standing trees are undamaged

- Ideal for wet, steep, rough and small plantations

- Leaves no timber behind on the forest floor

- Minimal disturbance to wildlife

- No pollution of waterways


For the past twenty eight years I have worked and trained heavy draught horses in all road, field and forest operations across Ireland - a trade I learned in the traditional manner where it was passed down through my family from father to son. This heavy horse heritage and the range of work we do with various breeds of these magnificent horses can be viewed in the archive below. References are available on request.
Feel free to contact me if you require any further information.

Tom Nixon, Athenry, County Galway, Ireland
mobile; 086 038 4857
email; tomnixonheavyhorses@hotmail.com

Member of
Forest Training & Education Ireland Ltd.
British Horse Loggers

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasons Greetings

from Trojan Heavy Horses

 Prince Von De Vosberg will be at stud for 2011 season. Watch the next post for further details

Monday, September 13, 2010

Forest initiative

 The wood we are in at present was chosen for horse thinning because it is on wet ground which machine harvesters would find difficult to travel through and whose weight would churn the forest floor to mud.
This particular wood is also susceptible to wind damage so a purely selective system was chosen.
Good reasons for using horses to extract the timber rather than machines.

 Our present logging job is for a group called  CCWEP (County Clare Wood Energy Project)  www.ccwep.ie  which was formed to bring together small forest owners in an area into a cluster.
This initiative makes it easier for these timber producers to harvest and market their crop operating as one unit rather than as individuals. Such a cluster is also more attractive to harvesting contractors.

 Before planting commercial forests drains and ditches are cut through the site to enable the free draining of the soil.
These drains are a major consideration when planning a harvesting job. Every extraction path must be planned with every drain and ditch bridged in a proper fashion.
Bridging is a time consuming but important task and must be included in the pricing of a job.
Small drains can be temporarily filled in with cut branches (brash) - which for the duration of the harvesting blocks the water from getting out of the woodland - so equally important is removing these bridges after the job is over to allow the drains do their job and prevent the forest floor flooding.

Larger ditches and firebreaks need to be bridged with green timber. Dug into the banks on either side of the ditch the timber is lashed together with ropes and finally covered in a thick layer of brash so to ensure horse and handler has a good grip for their feet when crossing.

 These timber bridges do not cause any interuption to the water flow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Felling and presenting timber for horse extraction

 Part of our business is firewood production. Here I prepare a mature Ash which was felled earlier in the year and left to dry out on the ground.

 Now ready for extraction by horse it must be cleaned up. All its brash (side branches) are cut down into small lengths and cleared to one side or these will become obstacles which will trip up the feet of the logger and the horse.

 Regardless of size, age or species of timber the onus is on the sawman to prepare the timber to be extracted.
To ensure safe practice the chainsaw operator must clean off the felled timber and clear a path to it.

The thinning of this Spruce is no different. Often a  tree is not leaning in the direction of the extraction path so a sequence of specific cuts and use of a felling bar (a long handled wedge) is needed to drop the tree in the right direction to reduce further man handling.

 This particular felling bar doubles as a 'Cant hook' which grips the tree so it can be rolled or turned without strain on the sawman's back.

It is essential that all its branches are cut clean off because any one of these will snag  in the earth causing more drag on the horse, which will ultimately reduce the payload.

 The chainsaw operator should fell and present all timber in a correct manner for the horseman. As well as leaving the racks (extraction paths through the standing timber) tidy and free of all obstacles all felled timber should be pointed in the direction the horseman has chosen to go, placing all the brash out of the way in between the racks.

There are two ways to present the timber. If it is too heavy to be man handled out onto the rack from where it is cut down, then it should be dropped so the heavy end is pointed towards the rack. The area around the heavy end along with the space between it and the rack should be cleared of brash- so that the logger can leave the rack with the logging horse and be able to back the horse right up to the timber having no other work to do than to slip the choke chain around the trunk.

If the timber is light enough to be man handled out to the rack then it should be left in bundles, ideally with the heavy ends propped up on a small cross beam of wood as can be seen above. Even a small branch is effective in providing a gap between the ground and the timber so that the logger can slip the choke chain around the bunch without having to roll any of them about to get choke chain under them.
This is the most effective use of labour.

A clear passage that is vital to ensure safe footing for horse and logger has the added advantage that can be seen on this rack which we extracted through by horse recently during heavy rain. Despite large volumes of rainfall the ground has been left in a perfect condition.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Heavy horses in Athenry


Shire mare at the Athenry Agricultural Show in County Galway today where -despite the adverse weather conditions- we had a successful display bringing together seven heavy horse breeds in the one place, the first time such an event was staged in Ireland.

Some of the line up; from left to right, 

Irish Draught with owner Eamonn Foy from Dublin, 
Suffolk Punch owned by Ray Kerr from Northern Ireland,
Friesian with owner Val Good from Dublin,
then Percheron owned by Pat Maloney from Galway
and Shire with owner Pat Murray from Roscommon.

Brian Gallagher and his Clydesdale stallion

 My Mountain Ardennes shown by Paddy Rooney-Trojan Heavy Horses crew

Pat Maloney with his Percheron gelding which he works in forestry.

I had not just chosen prime examples of each heavy horse breed but invited horsemen who were all experienced and professional handlers. This was evident on the day during high winds and squally showers which made the horses excitable and lively.

 Irish Draught and Friesian

The upshot of which was a perfect oppurtunity to demonstrate one of the reasons we staged the display; to show to the general public that despite heavy horses being percieved as docile because they are  large and  slow moving, that given the right conditions they can be (because they are horses) alarmingly lively and light on their feet.

Ray Kerr's Suffolk Punch mare shown by Dave Reid from Dublin.

 All experienced horse people know that the bombproof horse does not exist - whatever the breed- so for the sake of safety with the high winds, we decided not to show any heavy horses in vehicles or implements as originally planned, and instead show all seven breeds in hand or in harness.


To mark this first gathering of seven heavy horse breeds in one place each exhibitor was presented with a sash and rossette by the Show Chairman Tommy Whelan.

Val Good and his Friesian gelding which he works as a carriage horse.

Percheron and Friesian

 The day went well due to the horsemens' skill and enthusiasm - some travelling from Dublin and Northern Ireland- at their own expense.
I would like to thank them all for their help and support.

All heavy horses were shown by people who work them on roads, farms and  forestry- traditional horsemen who keep the future of working horses alive.

More photos to follow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lisa's first day in the wood

In previous blogs we have discussed the importance of having logging horses that are quiet and well trained to avoid any injury to either the logger or the horse.

Here is a great example- of one of our Ardennes mares, not quite three years old, facing into her first logging job.
It is vital that the logger can operate very close to the horse's hind legs- so a logging horse must be rock steady, completely trusting the handler. While trained and worked on the land for tillage operations, to bring a young animal like this into a forest for the first time can be daunting because of the closed environment, yet Lisa accepted her new job within the first hour which is testament to not only her training and her handling but the proven bloodlines of her sire and dam.

Above left is Lisa's dam (mother) Miss De Chincha, the Ardennes mare with the flaxen mane which has been seen on Ear to the Ground and Nationwide programmes on RTE, and has appeared in numerous national newspaper articles. She is a Mountain Ardennes whose particular bloodlines are considered exceptional amongst Ardennes breeders and horse loggers across Europe.

Lisa's sire Sultan du Bac (above right) is a lowland Ardennes whose confirmation Lisa is showing, being longer and taller than her dam. This stallion has won at many shows in Belgium and his progeny prove themselves time and time again in both forestry and farmwork.
One thing Chincha and Sultan have in common is their kind and settled nature and willingness to work- a must for all working horses.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Airfield in May


For the past two weekends we were invited back to Airfield a unique urban farm in Dublin to plough and reseed 3 acres of old pasture in Murray's Field.

The pasture is being reseeded with a lot more clover so it will need less fertiliser, and was last ploughed by me in 1986 when I was farm manager there, when I planted beet in that field.

Being under grass for so long meant the sod was tough and the ground conditions were dry and stoney so we had our work cut out for us, not only to carry out the work but also to demonstrate to the public the ancient art of ploughing so rarely seen these days.

Traditionally one man had to be able to plough an acre a day or he was not considered worthy of hire. The same reason the field must be ploughed in straight lines- this is the most economical use of labour. The skill is that this task should be done by one man alone with two horses.

Ploughing with horses is not a matter of brute strength as the plough must be held light in the hands (which are needed to hold the reins to direct the horses), the ploughman is there to balance the plough, only applying force at the headlands to swing the plough across the grass, and to hold it down when it strikes a stone making it veer off it's line.

Keeping the furrows ( the hollows created by the sod turning over) straight is one of the hardest aspects of ploughing with horses because the second the plough jams on a stone the handles of the plough buck into the ploughmans ribs. Every stone, every hard cake of soil has a bearing on how the plough cuts through the sod- not to mention how each horse is pulling- so getting it right means controlling many elements.

I used a Ransome plough made in England about 60 to 70 years ago which had an additional bar fixed above it on one side to give the option of attaching an extra stabilising wheel when ploughing across the sides of steep hills- this was not needed in Airfield.

Airfield was always a commercial dairy and tillage farm and is unique in that it was always farmed by horse power right up until the death of the last Overend sister Naomi in 1993.

The pleasure children took in having hands on contact with heavy horses (the above group from Sacred Heart Senior National School in Killinarden at the foot of the Dublin Mountains) was evident throughout our recent visit, and very much fulfils Miss Overend's final wish that Airfield's house, gardens and farm should be kept as a working farm for the enjoyment of the residents of Dundrum and the education of the children of Dublin.

What makes this unique place work so well is in how it allows adults and children alike get close enough to ask us about the farmwork we were doing - all right in the heart of a city.
Many were surprised to hear that to plough an acre a day with horses means the ploughman has to walk 11 miles behind the plough, something no modern farmer has to do anymore when driving a tractor - which ploughs up far more ground than the single narrow strip of sod called a 'scrape' that the horse plough does.

'How does the plough do this?' asked one girl keen to understand the mechanics of what was occuring, as the green grass field slowly, strip by narrow strip, was turning to brown soil before her eyes - and while we were looking for a way to describe how any plough works by turning the long strips of sod over, she answered her own question herself-

' It turns the grass sod across the field like the pages of a book turning from cover to cover'

Proof that our efforts were not in vain.

After turning over the sod with the plough we broke it up into smaller bits of earth with harrows which is a frame of metal spikes that act like a giant rake.

 Then walking over every foot of ground using a 'seed fiddle' the grass seed was shaken across the land. This works by pushing a stick with a string tied to it (like the bow of a fiddle) which spins a metal wheel causing seed to be spread evenly across two yards of ground at a time.

 The big difference in working land with horses as opposed to using a tractor is that not only is there less compaction of the soil but the horseman having to walk the ground gets an intimate understanding of the land he is farming.

 Despite the advanced technology of farming with tractors, the tractor driver locked away in the cosy cab sees little, hears less and feels almost nothing. Though he does get more work done - it is at a cost- he is deprived from getting the feel of the land he is working.

 Photo; John Kent

So though horse work is physically much harder than tractor work it brings an understanding of the land that comes only from hands on contact.

For more about this unique place click on Airfield 

or go to the archive and open 2008 'Airfield Farm', 2009 'Heavy Horse heritage'.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One man, one horse

Fodder crops like turnips- traditionally fed to cattle and sheep and pigs were always sowed by one man and one horse- the skill being in able to drive the horse along the furrow (the low ground between the drills) while keeping the turnip sower dead centre on top of the drill (the high ground) where the seeds are planted.

Such ingenious devices as this turnip 'barrow' or sower ensured a dribble of seeds was sown, the only disadvantage was that when grown  the plants had to be thinned out by hand. Although manpower was plentiful during the work horse era a horseman had to be able to do such work on his own to be considered competent.

 Any seed from tiny turnip seeds to large peas seeds could be sown with this barrow as there is a moveable disc which has holes of various sizes which can be moved into place to suit the size of the seed.

Inside the drum the seeds are separated by a tuft of bristles more often than not made of horse hair the horseman would take from his own horse when the origional tuft had worn out.

 Drawn by the same Clydesdale mare as seen below with the roller, this turnip barrow was made in Philip Pierce's foundry in Wexford where much of the horse drawn - and eventually tractor - machinery in Ireland was made..