The thoroughbred in falconry

I started using horses for Falconry in 2001, by mistake really, I had just set up Dartmoor Hawking, doing Falconry commercially, as a change of life after the death of my first wife, and had got back to my Parents Farm where I kept my horse at the time.

I was riding a thoroughbred mare Toffee (Takethetopoff) And found a girl who is working for me at the time was having problems with a young peregrine falcon, without really thinking I said pass it up here and there I was on a horse with a falcon, and a little thing went ping.

I contacted Dr Nick Fox (now OBE for services to falconry) who ran the Northumberland crow Falcons, the only mounted falconer in the country at the time, who gave me a lot of very good advice.

I was already flying Falcons at crows, the fastest and most exciting form of falconry, on foot this could involve a lot of walking following disappearing flights and he told me how much a horse would enhance this, and yes it did, suddenly I could get into position to engender the best flights rather than just grabbing an opportunity, we could follow the flight we’ll , these could be covering Dartmoor at 60 mph.

This brings me on to the thoroughbred, when I first started telling people about what I was doing a rather large woman who rode a rather large cob told me that ex racehorses would not be suitable for falconry, I needed something like she rode.

So wrong, you need a fast horse, quick on its feet, Dartmoor has some very unforgiving riding for a clumsy horse, bogs , rock clitter, very uneven terrain. While following a flight you want to be looking up, not placing your horses feet. Brains and a steady temperament are essential, the whole package is hard to get in a horse, and this is where the ex racers come in so well.

Thoroughbreds often get a bad press, flighty, scatty, highly strung etc. A lot of this comes from them falling into the wrong hands due to cheap prices and people not understanding what they’re working with. Retrained properly most excellent when given a new job, I’m working with a team of 4, one ex chaser, and 3 flat horses (one with one eye who won in group,2 and raced in group 1) all of whom have taken to Falconry really well.

The horse is mainly a carrying platform, used to transport myself and a hooded falcon, or eagle, till our quarry is in site, hood comes off, falcon goes and then the horse has to keep me in touch, until the flight ends when it has to stand quietly while I deal with the hawk on its kill or retrieve it after a missed flight, then carry myself , hawk and what was caught back (in the case of eagle hawking this can be something quite large).

Our horses live next to our hawks and if we’re exercising we normally stick a hawk on board as a standard thing, we have to have complete control with one hand at all times and this makes everything second nature.

As part of their education all our thoroughbreds go hunting as it’s a slower, gentler way to teach them to keep their feet with lots going on, and how to behave in a crowded and exciting environment

The Dartmoor falcons meet on Fridays and a bye day from mid August to the end of January, visitors are more than welcome, but we do have a field limit of 12 as to many riders can spoil the hawking.

All our horses are also used to give main arena displays of falconry , which is a fantastic platform to show how versatile the Recycled Racehorse can be

Published by Martin Whitley

Owner and general dogsbody at Dartmoor Hawking and The Recycled Racehorse Falconry Team

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