Horses continued to be used widely on farms until the 1950s. Ploughing was one of the most important activities for which they were used and a man good at working with horses was highly valued. Graham Andrew’s father had a reputation as a first-rate ploughman who was in high demand for opening drills.

Farmers would have had him make a start on the drills so that they could carry on from where he left off. Horses also pulled carts and farm machinery such as the ‘tumbling paddy’ which was used in haymaking. Horses also pulled the binder which was used in harvesting oats. Graham does not have fond memories of this: ‘The worst bit was when they were cutting corn … there were three horses on the binder and sometimes you had to ride the middle horse and the sweat would have burned the legs off you’.

Leslie Bell remembers his mother’s family – who were the last to use horses in their district – cutting corn with horses, and spraying potatoes with a horse and cart – one man drove the horse and another pumped the sprayer which was bolted on to the cart. One of John Milliken’s neighbours was one of the few people in the Islandmagee/Whitehead area who continued to work with a horse into the 1960s. John remembers him coming to their farm with his horse-drawn ‘tumbling paddy’ during haymaking.

John Cushinan tells a story about a neighbour’s horse:

They were very intelligent animals, horses. The neighbour next to us … Andy Greer … Andy was a bachelor, but he employed an old lady to look after him and he employed a horse-man. The horse-man maybe could have been two field lengths away from the house at lunchtime at 12 o’clock and this lady had a powerful calling voice. She called them and the men never heard her, but the horse snickered, the horse heard her, so they knew immediately that it was 12 o’clock. … The horse was just as keen as them to get in for a feed!

Frankie Dale describes working with horses:

I did not like horses. I wasn’t fit to work with them and they made a fool of me – I was too young. Horses are clever. They ruled me, I didn’t rule them. … Besides they were dangerous. I know of three people who were killed with horses in the area. They were unpredictable. No, I didn’t like horses.

Roisin McLernon remembers the last horse on her family’s farm:

The last horse my brother had – it was when he got the tractor and didn’t need the horse any more. It was a great old pet. It was sold to somebody up in the Glens. A week later we looked down the lane [and saw] the horse coming up the lane, coming home – all that distance!

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: