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Training a pit pony at Netherton
 
© Copyright ©2008 Carole Sage. All rights reserved.
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Training a pit pony at Netherton

Carole
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This photo was taken at Netherton in the 1930s. They're obviously getting the pony used to the harness and pulling the weight of a loaded tub. The pony isn't ready to be taken underground yet because it still has a full tail. All the working pit ponies had their tails docked and manes hogged, clipping the long hair off to avoid the risk of it getting caught in machinery.

Getting the ponies ready to be taken underground must have needed a lot of training before they were first taken down the pit so that they wouldn't panic in the cage going down the shaft. I was once told that in the earliest days pit ponies used to be lowered down the shaft in nets. The Netherton ponies were brought back up at the end of each shift and stabled in the pit yard. The pitmen who worked with the ponies were very fond of them.

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© Copyright ©2008 Carole Sage. All rights reserved.
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Netherton/Nedderton old photos

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Netherton pit was unique then!At all pits,the ponies were stabled,fed,groomed,shoe'ed,and bedded down in the underground stables. Ponies were never put in a cage with a man!...they used to sling them in a proper body harness UNDERNEATH the cage,for the ponies own safety..he could kick and fling all he wanted..and wouldn't come to any harm.At Choppington High Pit,right up until it closed,in 1966,we had ponies sent down that weren't broken in at all.

We didn't have limbers [shafts] at all,until just before the pit closed,and that was only for one pony to supply the men driving a new drift.[scratching around for coal!].

We had what was called "Tracing Chains",which were two long chains,one each side,and attached to the pony's collar "Yem-sticks",and which had a hook at the end.

We used to trail all timber and steel materials across the bare rough  ground..really hard labour for both the pony and his handler.[that was in all the Maingates.],and we had small trams with steel bars at the sides,upon which materials were loaded,and which were used in the Tailgates,with the pony's chains attached to each side of the tram...the roadways were too small too take pit tubs right up to the coalface,due to severe crush from the roof and sides.

We had to break the ponies in ourselves,by giving them twice as much of a load as we would normally,the pony would wildly try to escape the chains by straining and pulling constantly until he just tired himself out,and calmed down,then it was a case of a lot of love and attention,commands rewarded,as you would a dog or any other animal.

Once you bonded with your pony,and not a lot of miners did!!,he would do anything you asked him to do.

My gorgeous dapple grey Stallion,Charlie,had to be put to sleep after he suffered a serious injury underground,and I was in tears,and upset...in 1963,and even now,in 2019,aged 75 years,I still well up every time I see a rider passing on a Dapple-grey!

I watched the film.."Warhorse",just a few weeks ago,and I was breaking down watching the way the horses were treated,purely because of flashbacks to the conditions our ponies were subjected to..it was cruelty for man and horse at the High Pit...and the NCB and Government inspectors turned a blind eye to roadways so low that the ponies' backs and flanks were stripped to bare flesh bleeding,and having to be stabled for days,or weeks,untill they healed....sorry for ranting...wound up...thinking back...it wasn't  like that at Netherton in 1971,I did a training course there for a few weeks,and saw how completeley different it was,and a lot easier on the pony's..better drier conditions made life a lot easier!

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I just thought on,after I switched off last night,a while ago I watched a short film on U-Tube,which was a visit underground at Kellingly Colliery,[I think],and in one short clip,in the middle of the film,the Manager and his visitors went to jump onto a manriding conveyor belt,which would transport them away inbye.It was at a transfer point,where one conveyor belt loads onto another one,and high above the conveyor belt,hung from the roof,was a full-size mock-up of a horse hanging from the chains holding it,with a proper leather body harness, holding him in a comfortable position,simulating  being slung from the cage,and being transported down the shaft,[or up the shaft,as the case may be.

The thing what struck me was...not one person glanced up to see it,they all had eyes down,and followed the Manager..Pidgeon fashion,onto the conveyor belt.

How nobody saw a full-size model horse hanging there...beats me,and I also thought that I wouldn't have wanted any of that lot as Marras working down there with me!!....you needed a hundred pairs of eyes,and instinctively learned to be aware of all your surroundings at all times...your life depended upon your vigilance,and common-sense! If I can find the film link,I will try and post it for your information.

Cheers !

HPW.

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