Good Work, Stories

Celtic Horse Logging – Lucy Flatman

Some people make their living doing unusual jobs. Others do ordinary work with particular skill and dedication. Still others offer their talents as true amateurs, because they love what they do.

They all do good work. And we’d like to showcase their efforts here. Check back weekly for the newest essay in the Good Work series.

Celtic Horse Logging is a great but dwindling rural tradition. It is a fine example of the connection between man and animal and a more environmentally friendly way of logging. It is also beautiful to watch. In the peaceful clearing, with sun streaming through the trees, the gentle giants emerge with perfectly contained power. The only sounds are of the trees swaying, the horses’ hooves, the clink of their harnesses and the gentle Irish lilt of the Lenihans as they speak to their animals. The bond between man and animal is strong and evidently successful.

The Lenihan family are a father and son team of logging contractors who work around the UK and abroad to selectively harvest timber. The family has worked horses for generations, from a time when they were the main source of power to the current day where they have to compete with industrial methods. Here at a private estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland they were working two of their Belgian Ardennes horses in November 2012.

I stumbled upon them as I drove through the woods and at first drove past, but soon realized if I didn’t ask to photograph them I would always regret it. As it transpires both men and beast are used to being in front of a camera, often working in areas open to the public. The horses themselves are so gentle with people that the Lenihans now use them as part of a therapy programme for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and people with PTSD.

One horse in particular, was older and more experienced. Sultan was the gentlest giant, I had no concern when they let him, unhandled, pull trees towards me commanding him with just spoken instruction. The horses are perfectly trained and almost impossible to spook. They are also well looked after and regarded as part of the family. There is a rare respect between the Lenihans and their horses, which is often lacking in the world of working animals. Although the work is hard and physical, I never felt these horses were being exploited.

Using horses to harvest timber is a more sustainable way of logging. First, the men select trees to be felled, leaving healthy/younger specimens. They fell them with chainsaws and then bring in the horses to remove them. Using chains attached to the horses’ harness, the animals then drag them out of the forest and into the clearing. This method is far less damaging for the woodland. The Lenihans showed me scarred ridges that machinery, used over 5 years ago, had caused to the forest floor. The horses tred so lightly that damage is minimal and often they rejuvenate growth to the forest floor. There is also little use of fossil fuels, therefore much better for the environment and without the risk of damaging watercourses.

This method is much gentler to the forest and greener for the environment than industrial logging. It is also a fantastic example of a traditional approach that is still as good, if not better in some circumstances than the industrial alternative. Having grown up in the country I am surrounded by nature and in my photographic and film work I look at the interconnection between people, the land and its wildlife. This work on rural traditions and professions is ongoing. I aim to use visual imagery to inspire and promote positive change to protect our environment, its people and wildlife.

You can view more of Lucy Flatman’s work HERE.


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