Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Field of expertise: How Benny and his Clydesdales are keeping old skills alive

If farming skills from the working horse era are going to pass to another generation, it will be thanks to a handful of men like Benny Duncan.

The number of folk who know how to yoke a Clydesdale, train horses to pull a plough or master the convoluted canvasses in a binder is dwindling, but Benny has spent the last few decades demonstrating all he knows in the hope the ancient ways aren’t lost forever.

That means there’s barely a weekend during the winter months he’s not out braving the weather in a stubble field somewhere in central Scotland, ploughing with his stalwarts, Jackson and Davie.

Two horses pull a plough while a man guides it behind them.
Benny Duncan won the horse competition at the Scottish ploughing championships at Pitlochie Farm, Gateside.

Benny and his Clydesdales are central to most heavy horse working days across the country.

They’ve worked at the Beamish living museum in County Durham and demonstrated at Hay heavy horse farm in Northumberland as well as the Scottish Museum of Country Life at East Kilbride.

They were also at the heart of the British Horse Society’s heavy horse working days at Collessie in Fife and the Celebration of Clydesdales at the Royal Highland Show in 2019.

Scattered around Benny’s workshop on the edge of a field near Balmalcolm village are a collection of farm implements in various states of repair, including “about half a dozen” ploughs from the 1940s, carts, a dray, and two binders, one of which was given to him after lying abandoned on a farm near Newburgh for 50 years.

Benny Duncan on the binder pulled by his top team of Clydesdales.
Benny Duncan on the binder pulled by his top team of Clydesdales.

When Benny started work on a Fife farm in the 1960s, the tractor had already made Clydesdales obsolete, but many of the implements he used in those days had been converted from the horse-drawn era.

“Back then we weren’t interested in horses, as all we wanted to do was sit on tractors,” he admits.

“But we learned a lot about how the binders and other machinery worked, so many of the old, rusting implements I come across today are familiar.

“If we don’t keep these old ways going and try to encourage younger folk to get involved, in a few years’ time there’s going to be nobody able to even hitch into a machine.”

Clydesdales Davie and Star at the heavy horse turnout at Fife show.
Clydesdales Davie and Star at the heavy horse turnout at Fife show.

The relatively recent fashion for ridden Clydesdales has done a lot to revive interest in the breed, and Benny’s granddaughter, Blythe, 13, is already an accomplished rider and a key member of his team.

The horses may have a serious educational and cultural purpose, but Benny says the animals are also happiest when they’re working.

“They love all the attention they attract, and you know they’re enjoying themselves when they’re trotting along, snorting away,” he says.

“When we’ve been away and we’re unloading them from the lorry, the other horses will come up the ramp to meet them, curious to know where they’ve been.”

Two Clydesdales pilling a carriage and in perfect step at the Royal Highland Show.
In perfect step at the Royal Highland Show.

Benny’s top horse team of Davie, Geordie and Jackson came into their own towards the end of this year’s harvest when Fife Show’s organising committee began preparations for next year’s 200th anniversary event by pitting the horses and binder against a modern combine in a race across the field.

Benny relished the challenge.

“The binder and combine were about 20 feet apart at one point, side-by-side, letting folk see how the harvest was done in the old days, before the new machines came on to the scene.

“And we got to the end of the field first!

The Balmalcolm Clydesdales at Christmas, pulling a carriage covered in Christmas lights.
The Balmalcolm Clydesdales at Christmas.

“But the great thing about these working events is seeing everyone enjoying themselves, watching the kids running round the field and getting stuck in and throwing sheaves – and being told by other old boys how I’m doing things wrong.”

It’s not all field and farm work for Benny’s Clydesdales, though, as they are popular at weddings and often hired for rural funerals, to pull a dray with the coffin aboard.

And at this time of year they are usually out in their finery in local villages, the dray decked out with fairy lights and blaring out Christmas music, with Santa and Mrs Claus aboard and kids running alongside collecting for charity.

Benny is hopeful the tradition can be resurrected next year, which is already shaping up to be a landmark one for the breed with the World Clydesdale Show scheduled to take place in Aberdeen in October.

Around 200 horses are expected to gather from around the globe, and static displays of vintage farm machinery will give the breed’s dedicated enthusiasts an opportunity to spread the word.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]