THEY powered North East communities for centuries, but now these heavy horses have entertained thousands of people.
A festival celebrating the horses, as well as centuries-old rural skills and crafts, was staged at Milfield, near Wooler, yesterday.
It attracted around 3,000 people within its first few hours.Related content
And last night organisers spoke of their delight at how the festival had gone and confirmed it would return next year, possibly over two days.
The event – which bosses claim was the first major heavy horse festival of its kind in the UK – showcased more than 40 heavy horses from all over the UK, including Clydesdales – the breed traditionally associated with Northumberland, Percheron and Suffolk Punch.
All were once common sights in the countryside, but are now registered with the Rare Breeds Society.
The festival also celebrated traditional rural skills and practices such as hay making with horses, historic cookery and cottage crafts.
There were displays and demonstrations by wheelwrights, master saddlers, farriers, shepherds and their sheepdogs, birds of prey and the Northumbria Police horse section.
A vintage machinery rally, farmers market and craft stalls also featured.
One of the highlights was the driving section, which saw heavy horses pulling carriages driven by their owners.
A few hours into the event, Viv Cockburn, company secretary with festival organisers the Milfield Heavy Horse Association (MHHA), said: “It’s been outstanding, you could not put it any other way. Absolutely outstanding.
“I have just checked the gate – there are 3,000 people in here to see heavy horses. It is absolutely brilliant, there is folk come from all over.
“I am stood looking at a Suffolk Punch working out and that is just so rare.”
The event was attended by a representative of the Big Lottery Funding, which provided £29,700 from its Village SOS competition, with only 64 out of 500 applications chosen to receive money.
“He just could not believe how it has gone,” Viv added.
“It could not be better because the sun started to shine for when the drivers come out so it was a pretty spectacular afternoon.
“We had an idea it would be well supported but nowhere near like this.
“I told the judge the numbers, he is absolutely astounded.”
She confirmed the event would return next year.
“Trade stalls, craft stalls are all asking if we are running it next year, they would like to book again.
“We are talking about extending it to a two-day event, discussing with other people what we could do for a two-day event.”
Inquiries before the event came from as far afield as Spain, France, Belgium and Germany, as well as across the UK.
Organisers hope the festival will help put Milfield on the map, bring much-needed business to local guesthouses and B&Bs, and boost the rural economy.
The MHHA is also planning to open an educational heavy horse centre on the Ford and Etal Estate, linked to the Heatherslaw Mill tourist attraction and the Etal steam train.
It’s been outstanding, you could not put it any other way.