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Delight as heavy horse centre welcomes rare black Clydesdale filly


  • A centre that promotes the survival of the UK’s heavy horse breeds is celebrating the birth of its first black Clydesdale filly after 13 years of trying.

    Mare Bridget gave birth to Violet, by Tillside Topsman (Teddy), at Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, Northumberland, last month.

    Black is a rare colouring among Clydesdales, which are more typically bay or roan.

    Although the centre has had several black colts, it has never before had a filly to add to its breeding programme.

    “Other people have had black fillies from Teddy but we’ve always got the colts,” the centre’s owner Vivienne Cockburn told H&H.

    “This one popped out and we thought ‘another black colt’, but when we realised it was a filly, we were jumping up and down. We were absolutely thrilled.”

    Vivienne explained that the Clydesdale originated from a cross between Scottish mares and the typically black Flanders (Flemish draught), so it was originally quite a common colour for the breed, but bays and roans were later selected as a preference, making black Clydesdales increasingly rare.

    Picture by Viv Potts

    “They weren’t particularly sought-after or wanted but nowadays people are starting to look for them,” she said.

    Teddy, who is 11, has already sired “an awful lot” of foals and was also collected from by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) in 2019 to add his genes to the national gene bank.

    Hay Farm was established in 2013 and is the only heavy horse centre in the UK backed by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as a conservation centre. It was set up by the Cockburn family in response to public interest in their heavy horses, as well as a desire to promote and save rare breeds.

    “We had a farm for our personal horses that was on one of the main through roads from England to Scotland and we would find quite a few cars parked at the field where they had diverted because they’d heard about the horses and wanted to see them,” Vivienne said.

    “We’d also seen in the showing world how we were starting to lose the older people who had the experience and interest and people from the younger generations weren’t wanting to come into it.

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    “When we sat down and thought about it, we realised how important it was to preserve these horses. They’ve played a massive role in our history.”

    Since it was established, the enterprise has grown “fingers and toes” and the centre now runs two shows a year as well as promoting traditional skills.

    Hay Farm, which is in Northumberland, was able to survive the recent lockdowns with the help of crowdfunding and the not-for-profit is open to the public from March to December.

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