This weekend both myself and Sophie Carter, who is one of the grooms at Town Barton Farm, tapped into an interesting world at the War Horses Conference which had been organised by the School of Oriental African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Why were we there? Well, Faith Burden, who heads our research team, had been invited to speak, but reasons that will become clear in her video, will explain why... we’ll leave that to Faith to tell you!
Being first on the speaker list, we set off from Exeter Saturday morning super early to hopefully allow ourselves half an hour to settle in and grab ourselves a coffee and meet others at the conference. Funny how things never go according to plan isn’t it? We eventually arrived 5 minutes from the allotted time and only had time to take our seats on the front row as Faith’s video started.
As a bit of background, Faith had written an abstract to go with her presentation. It read:
“Together with the millions of horses employed by Allied troops in WW1 were mules. As horse losses mounted many mules were purchased, frequently from far away, arriving by ship to end up in the mud-filled trenches with handlers often ill-equipped to care for them. The introduction of British troops to mules must have been a challenge, as mules were not widely appreciated or used in the UK. A mule is not a horse, and to work successfully with them required a different attitude. A less developed flight response made them hard to drive on, and impossible cavalry mounts; a highly developed fight response made them quick and dangerous adversaries when faced with ill treatment. It was oft stated that there were two types of mule men; those that learnt to work considerately with them and those that ended up in the field hospital!
Understanding of the mule and its unique attributes and character developed and they became firm favourites with many troops who relied upon them to carry their most precious cargo in their calm and enduring way. The relationship between this unique equine and their handlers in WW1 will be examined through the eyes of mule and man.”
It was now our turn to step up on the stage as it were and field any questions, of which there were many about mules in the First World War, ranging from where did the mules come from, what type of head collar did they wear, how did they know to follow each other... and more.
We also had a chance to get the message across as to just how many donkeys and mules we have here at the Sanctuary and that one of our farms specialises in the care of mules, even mentioning our foster scheme.
With Faith’s presentation and Q&A session over, we could relax and enjoy the rest of the two day conference listening to speakers from as far away as Canada, Japan and USA and as close to home here in the UK and Europe with a trip to the British Museum also included as part of the historical background.
And for all you lucky people who are joining us this week for International Donkey Week, one of the speakers this year is William G. Clarence-Smith from SOAS who not only chaired this conference, but will be here on Thursday to do a talk about mules in Britain – he’ll have two avid listeners on the front row again!
And while William is here with us, SOAS will be having their own special visitor... she’s called Clover and is a regular visitor to the School at this time of year. With it being a stressful time for the students swatting for their exams, Hackney City Farm takes Clover along for donkey cuddles and photos. We’re told the students simply love her visiting as it helps take their minds off studying for a while to have some fun.
We thought you might like to see Faith’s presentation, so here it is... enjoy!