Wine estate Klein Constantia hopes for vintage performance by heavy horses

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By TANYA FARBER

It's been a long time since horses worked Klein Constantia wine estate, but now two percherons are returning to the land.
Craig Harris, estate manager and head viticulturist, bought the draft horses and they are being trained to work a vineyard known as the perdeblok, because historically it was prepared by horses.
"I thought it was only right to have horses prepare the field once again," said Harris.
Nelson and Napoleon are being trained to plough, but Napoleon has had to take a break after injuring a leg that got stuck in a fence.
"He was chasing the ladies," said Harris, adding that he chose the French breed because it came from wild herds.
"I didn't want a Constantia horse that needed to be brushed twice a day and needed a jacket for rain and a jacket for sun. I needed a more bullet-proof horse."
Trainer Solara Wing uses a gentle, positive-reinforcement approach.
"Because they are very young, just five, I don't want to overwork them as their spines and the rest of their bones only develop fully around eight years old," she said.
They are trained three times a week, but this often involves simply an outride and walking around the farm, or trotting up and down between the vines to get them used to the vineyard as "horses can sometimes find even that claustrophobic".
One of their favourite activities was to wade into the dam and splash around, said Wing. One went in up to the ears. The outrides build the horses for ploughing.
Wing started training horses the old way, but has since learnt the value of empathy.
"When I was 14, I got my first horse and put a big bit in his mouth and I was terrified of him. I had to try to control him. My instructor was very strict.
"The way I now rub Nelson on the head and give him scratches is something that would be frowned upon in traditional horsemanship."
Traditional methods involve "pressure, and then release after the horse has done what you want". Forms of pressure can range from staring the horse down, or pulling the bit, or whipping, then stopping when they obey.Wing said the positive-reinforcement method was "currently big in the dog world but not so big yet in the horse world".When she gives Nelson a cue, like raising her hand to make him smile, she makes a click sound with her tongue then rewards him with pellets.Percherons have fallen out of favour because of tractors and other machinery, and could die out. But Wing said: "They make wonderful pets and companions because of their calm temperaments."..

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