The Thoroughbred in falconry

Combining the two arts of Falconry and riding, Using an intrinsically wild animal along with one of our longest domesticated species, the ultimate predator in conjunction with one of the ultimate flight/prey species…..A recipe for disaster  or an amazing combination?wp-1479848326638.jpg

Just to make it more interesting I only use ex-racehorses to fly pursuit falcons and eagles

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Reasons being they’re fast ,quick on their feet, very important over the varied terrain of Dartmoor, the good ones have an incredibly sane temperament, vital when you have an eagle with a 7′ wingspan leaving straight over your head and on a personal level I just love thoroughbreds, they suit me down to the ground and I would not ride anything else (I was accused of being a horse snob a few days ago,it was  one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me)

It’s one of the great joys of my job, bringing on a new falconry pony as they go from nervous to accepting,to enjoying working with the various falcons and eagles (and in the case of Tommy utter adoration, he loves them and ambles off to see Artemis “his” eagle anytime he has the opportunity.

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Working with ex-racers is so rewarding, but it does have its heartbreaks as well,l as both my original thoroughbreds had to be put to sleep as old racing injuries that were beyond repair surfaced, but I look at the fact that both had a fantastic life with me and achieved things that very few horses in the world will ever do

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The history behind our Falconry from horses

I started using horses for falconry by accident really, I’d just started Dartmoor Hawking, (this was 2001)and was keeping my Hawks and living in a mobile home on a farm near Bovey Tracey, but I kept my horse and was exercising the hawks at Holwell, what was then the family farm near Widecombe in the moor on Dartmoor.

I’d just got back from Exercising Toffee,my then ex-racehorse when Guenevere ,a young  peregrine got her hood off and was fidgeting around in the back of the van.

Without really thinking I asked Gilly Everett,who was helping me out at te time to pass her up while I sorted her out.Toffee didn’t bat an eyelid,and a bulb went ping in my head.

I contacted Nick Fox, who was master of the Northumberland crow Falcons,who was incredibly helpful, and after conversations with him I formed the Dartmoor Falcons, one of only two mounted falconry groups in the country

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We had a great couple of years, but Due to various reasons I drifted out of riding,so jumping forward to 2011,circumstances had changed,and I met Sir Lancelot (and Philippa ),
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he got me back into riding and I decided to look for something for myself,Philippa suggested looking for a horse on loan,and the lovely Kim Hayward contacted me to offer me Dotty, the spotty pony ,on loan.,IMAGE_EFB7927A-5C2D-427B-9ADB-33143D0C8F35

Dotty put up with everything we could throw at her and was up yo my (rather large) weight at the time, and really revived my interest in falconry from horses.

I had a huge amount of fun with Dotty (and still do) but she did lack a certain finesse and as my weight was dropping off we started looking for a second horse for me, and with perfect timing, someone asked us to go and look for an ex racehorse for them.

We saw him,I rode him, liked him,and told them he would be perfect,only to find,without telling me ,that they had already found and brought a horse.

Some things were meant to be so I told Gordon Chambers ,who had him in training, that I would have him.

Enter Skippy (William Percival)

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He was bold, confident, a lovely ride,and he just loved falconry.

At this stage we thought it would be fun to bring falconry from horses into Dartmoor Hawking,and with the combination of Skippy and the spotty pony we had 2 great horses to do this from,and so our Falconry from horses days started.

Skippy was doing a huge amount in my personal world as well as with Dartmoor Hawking so we decided he needed a backup, I by now was totally sold on the ex-racehorse as the perfect falconry pony so speaking to Gordon Chambers again along came Ozzy (major buck) a lovely big powerful thoroughbred.

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He has become a fantastic personal falconry horse but proved to be a bit timid for client work as a nervous rider could give him the wrong signals.

Skippy, unfortunately, cracked his pelvis and had to be put to sleep, a devastating blow to us, so we introduced Ted Ted, a little bog pony, he’s laid back ,unflappable and was the perfect pony for working with clients as they got the hang of working horse and hawkreceived_10207791905809569

This still left a hole in my personal team so after a search and passing over several unsuitable horses we went back to Kim who had offered me her racehorse Tommy (myladtommy) who I had originally passed over as to big .

And what a gent he turned out to be,we’ve chucked everything at him and hes not batted an eyelidDSC_0041 (1)

and that is a brief history of our falconry from horses.

We had planned to reform the Dartmoor Falcons last year but this became a none starter as I was suffering the side effects of radiotherapy but have great plans for this year2002_0307_132250AA.JPG

So That was 2015

So That was 2015

Well what an interesting year 2015 was, and without a doubt the toughest, but also most exciting, year we’ve had at Dartmoor Hawking

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We Introduced our Falconry from horses, a unique experience, and something we’re incredibly proud off, especially as we were using ex-racehorses alongside Dotty the wonderful Spotty pony

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Unfortunately late this year we lost Skippy, and Dotty has been retired from client work, But Ozzy has stepped Manfully into the breach, and we have just started work on a new ex-racer who is already showing a lot of promise, and the wife’s pony, Lady Tinkle has also joined the Falconry  team

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The quality of flying we have been able to show clients has gone from strength to strength, and we are offering what is probably the most exciting eagle flying available in the southwest, with Artemis and Rosie still getting better

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The support crew have excelled themselves, Our Hunting days would be very poor without them, and during the summer have created hours of mindless amusement for clients, and become one of the most photographed features at Bovey Castle Hotel while we do our morning display

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Phillippa Waddell from Wildhorse Films made a lovely short film, a day in the life of The Dartmoor Hawker (sorry for the link, my technological skills never om[rove)

All this was fantastic, the downside, that made the year so tough was that in February I was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and started treatment in May, This has been successful but it made the year a real struggle, I worked all through treatment, only having to cancel a few sessions,and a huge thank you to the majority of clients who were so understanding, (and we won’t mention the 2 who were not)

I have to give a huge thank you to the wife, Phillippa for her help and supportDSC_0001

And also to the lovely neighbours across the valley at Bovey Castle for being so supportive during my illness and treatment

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2016 has started as a washout, weatherwise, but we are looking forward to making it the most exciting year yet for Dartmoor Hawking, The falconry from horses is developing to a really high level, we have the best team of hawks we have ever had so we think we are offering one of the best falconry experiences available in the country/

Happy new year to you all

Five years on

Five years ago I arrived at a service station just off the M25 at 3.30 am with a large wedge of cash, and waited for a man in a white van.
He turned up, showed me the contents of the wooden box, passed it over, took the cash and dissapppeared .
This was one of those great life changing moments , the contents of the box turned out to be the great love of my life,Artemis

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Artemis was a joint venture with Bovey Castle Hotel Who had decided an eagle would be a great Addition to the hotel, the deal being they’d buy her, I’d train and fly her for them and have full use of her for Dartmoor Hawking.
Her origanal intention was only to be a display eagle,and for people to fly on our falconry experiences, she had other views on this, only a week after she was flying lose the dogs flushed a fox that had been poking around in a hedge, it ran straight under her flight path, she grabbed it and killed it.
A couple of weeks later I was flying her on the moor,starting her soaring, and the dogs flushed out a roe deer, she killed that.
She had unilaterally decided she wanted to be a hunting eagle.
As our relationship developed I introduced her to horses

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As far as I’m aware she’s the only eagle in this country being flown from a horse, and what a combination it makes, a big powerful eagle being flown from a thoroughbred ex racehorse, the pinnacle of equine evolution ,over Dartmoor, one of the very few true wilderness’ left in England’
All the time whilst working she has retained her lovely nature and has been one of the nicest natured hawks I’ve ever worked with. She provides a wonderful experience for guests to fly

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A huge thank you to Bovey Castle for the oppertunity to work with this wonderful creature

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Why the ex racehorse

Why the ex racehorse  ?
I’m often asked why I only use Thoroughbreds, brought out of training for my falconry horses,I’m told they have a reputation for being flighty,scatty and very unpredictable.
Luckily no one has told mine this,my primary falconry horse is Skippy (racing name William Percival) who joined us from Gordon Chambers yard in Buckfastleigh

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In the 18 months we’ve had him he has been used to teach young hawks to work with horses, been the main tutor on our falconry from horses days, Been masters horse for the Dartmor Falcons, carrying me on more than 50 days Hawking from horses carrying hawks from Harley at 350g to Artemis weighing in at 4.5kg,,kept me up with the flight and quite happily carried back whatever had been caught.

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He’s been used in talks , demonstrations and main ring displays at various venues, and never put a foot wrong.
He’s fast, light mouthed, very quick on his feet,so can keep himself upright at a gallop whilst I’m concentrating on the flight, unfazed by anything (except killer squirrels!)
Number 2 pony, Ozzy (Major Buck) joined us this year and is proving to be equally as versatile as is Arnie(Ardnaglass) The wife’s latest acquisition to

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Flying hawks on Dartmoor from a thoroughbred is without a doubt the best way to show how versatile a retired Racehorse can be
Our Video A day in the Life shows how The horse fit into our everyday work and the video Dartmor Falcons on inside out  Shows there use in the field