Real life

The politics of horse muck

21 May 2022

9:00 AM

21 May 2022

9:00 AM

‘You coming to help us poo pick?’ said my friend Terry, in a desperate sounding voice message.

The builder boyfriend and I were lying in the garden having a well-earned sunbathe on Sunday, his only day off.

Meanwhile, as we full well knew, the builder b’s fellow livery customers were hard at work shovelling horse muck out of the fields at the country estate where he has been grazing his two cobs until we can move them to be with my two horses at the new stable yard we have just taken a lease on.

This mania for ‘poo picking’ is all very well if you are talking about paddock maintenance. I’m out there with a shovel every day in the small private paddocks where we now keep my thoroughbred and pony.

But when your horses are turned away in a herd with a dozen others in the vast parkland of an English country house it is a different system. The farmer harrows the fields. The horses are wormed. You cannot feasibly pick up every poo by hand. It has to be mechanically worked in. The fields are rested and rotated.

But the crazy horse-owning women don’t like the look of poo, or rather the dominant mare among them doesn’t.

And so this head of the herd put a statement on the WhatsApp group ordering everyone to turn up with shovels and flasks of coffee on Sunday to poo-pick 50 acres, which is only marginally more reasonable than if she had demanded they polish the blades of grass.


Two customers out of about 15 said they would be there. The rest offered a variety of excuses from ‘working the late shift the night before’ to ‘got to visit my mother’, along with sick relatives, last-minute holidays and urgent business trips abroad.

The builder b chose not to reply, holding firm to his belief that as there is nothing in his contract requiring him to remove the muck from the fields, and as he pays top dollar for his horses to be in them, he was not going to be spending his only day off tending the land of the aristocracy on a volunteer basis.

That morning, we drove by the horses to check them and then made our way to the garden centre on the estate for a full English breakfast. On the way back down the drive, we looked into the field again and saw a huge muck trailer being driven around by old bossy boots. A tiny woman, she was sitting atop a tractor imperiously, on her phone.

Following behind shovelling muck into the trailer were two or three of her fellow horse owners including our friend Terry, shovelling away in his wellies as she shouted instructions at him while barking into her phone. No doubt she was ordering more people to turn up.

‘What on earth is Terry thinking?’ said I, as the BB put his foot on the accelerator of his pick-up truck before we could be spotted by the chief of the poo-pickers.

As we lay on our sun loungers later, the BB checked the WhatsApp group and started reading out the messages, which became more vicious as the afternoon wore on and the heat of the day became quite blistering.

‘Here is a picture of a 70-year-old man shovelling shit!’ said the boss lady, posting a photo of poor Terry, as she questioned why so few had turned up.

Our phones rang twice as a gasping Terry left voice messages demanding to know where we were.

The BB couldn’t resist it in the end, posting: ‘You’re doing a sterling job you lot!’ Whereupon, of course, the venom was turned directly on him. ‘No thanks to you! Where are you?’

‘I’m lying in my garden about to have a spot of lunch,’ said the BB. And he added that, by the way, the owner of the estate was last seen heading for the Michelin-starred gastropub in the village in a red Mustang. ‘I’m sure His Lordship is delighted you’re shovelling the muck out of the fields you pay him hundreds of pounds each to keep your horses in.’

The top mare then put her ears flat back and posted a series of excoriating comments, culminating in a diatribe about the condition of the crumbling estate, which has seen better days but, to be fair to the owners, is the subject of a massive ongoing restoration project.

‘If you feel His Lordship’s estate is a mess, I suggest you tell him,’ posted the BB. ‘No, wait, I’ve got a better idea, I’m going to forward this WhatsApp trail to the estate office, attention His Lordship.’

And that was the last we heard from the dominant mare, who obviously did not fancy her chances against an enraged stallion.

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