Meet Emma Warner
Wimpole’s Shire horses are a favourite with visitors to the Cambridgeshire estate. They’re cared for by Head Horseperson Emma, who explains why she loves working with these magnificent animals.
I’ve been at Wimpole for 13 years. I started at the Home Farm, helping with seasonal events, and I’ve been here ever since. Horses are a passion of mine, and I’ve been riding since I was ten. The best part of my job is training the horses and gaining their confidence. I love greeting the horses each morning and learning their characters.
We have five Shire horses at Wimpole. Queenie is 16 – she has had six foals and is a more laid-back lady now. Harry is nine and is very enthusiastic – he likes to go at top speed and thinks he’s a racehorse. There’s Murphy, who’s 12, Jasper, who’s also nine and Lady, who’s four. Shire horses are very placid and good-natured, which made them ideal to pull canal boats, transport beer from breweries to public houses, and work in agriculture.
In the summer we mostly use ours for carriage rides and Shire horse driving experiences. All year round we run a daily ‘Meet the Shire’ session for families, and various demonstrations for visitors. We’re lucky to have 15 volunteers who help with all aspects of the horses’ care.
On the driving experience days, you’ll learn how to handle the horses. I really enjoy watching people realise how sensitive, intelligent and willing the horses are, building a rapport and experiencing their power, as well as getting a taste of the work that goes into training them. You’ll harness them, and use the stop, start, left and right commands with them in a field. Later, you’ll take a turn at driving the carriage. The approach to the Wimpole mansion up the drive is always an impressive sight, even when you’ve done it hundreds of times.
Wimpole’s a working farm and heavy horses are a true part of its history. This year we’re planning to start introducing our horses to traditional agricultural tasks such as rolling and haymaking. When they’ve got the hang of that, we can teach them to plough. I’m looking forward to the challenge of learning new skills – how to set up the ground and change the depth of the furrow.
The Home Farm’s 18th-century stables are being renovated this year. The Farm was intended to showcase the best working practices of its time, and we’re keen to continue that legacy today. The renovations will lead the way with horse welfare as there will be five new and more spacious stables, and a warm-water wash box for bathing the horses.
Our visitors love the horses. We get lots of people who have worked with horses and they share their stories and memories. We’ve had visits from groups of disabled visitors and the horses will put their heads right down to the wheelchair to say ‘hi’. The mum of one girl who had learning difficulties said she wouldn’t speak to anyone, but she started chatting away to the horses. The Shire is an ‘at risk’ breed, so I hope we can get more people interested in them and preserve the skills required to work with these special horses.
" We’ve had visits from groups of disabled visitors and the horses will put their heads right down to the wheelchair to say ‘hi’. "
This interview was first published in National Trust Magazine summer 2018.