Pit Ponies Annual Holidays

They didn’t know it was the August holiday fortnight but they knew something was happening. The conveyors had stopped and yet handlers were in fixing halters and leads at 6.30 am on the Saturday morning.

They were of course, the pit ponies in the Savile Park seam underground stables. Freddie Worth, Terry Micklefield and the other handlers could tell they were more excitable with snorting and stamping and quickening of the pace from these usually temperate animals on the short journey to the pit bottom.

The first pony was led into the cage, firmly tethered, horse doors fixed with the assistance of onsetter John Willie Gawith and the shaftsmen. The signal sent to Len Richardson the winding engineman was for ‘Riding Horses’ and the cage rose quietly to the surface low landing where the reverse action took place and the by now, quite frisky pony was led out of the cage which was returned underground for the next passenger.

Not all the transfers were quite so smooth as the ponies were one by one raised out of the pit for the August break. By 7.30 am the scene outside the big concrete heapstead as the ponies came out of the airlock into the fresh air was a delight to see. Some of the animals were tugging and dragging to get away with much stamping and kicking. Head Horsekeeper, Harold England could be heard urging “hold him, hold him, calm him down, DON’T LET GO !” remembering a previous instance and the difficulties involved in catching a runaway.

The action was absolutely fascinating and the view limited to only a few handlers, myself, Flash Wright, Ernie Backhouse, Sid Williams and perhaps a few other surface workmen. What the TV companies would pay to film this now.

The horsebox had since arrived and with some difficulty and equine reluctance the first run of ponies were safely driven inside for the short journey to their pasture adjacent to Almshouse Wood.

Again, a marvelous sight as the horsebox reversed up to the opened gate and the ponies were released to transverse the field, galloping and kicking, some would roll on the grass. The few more mature ponies would, after a short canter start to munch the succulent grass then jerk up their necks to smell the air, then canter again.

These actions would be repeated when the second run arrived and it would be some time later that the ponies would calm down to grazing and two weeks of sun, rain, breeze, day and night interspersed with visits by the vet, farrier, horsekeeper, some of the handlers and villagers with the occasional carrot.

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