Ken sticks it out to support local charity

Stickmaker Ken Horner of Follifoot near Harrogate.  Picture: Tony Johnson.

Stickmaker Ken Horner of Follifoot near Harrogate. Picture: Tony Johnson.

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Giving people ‘stick’ often means dishing out a hard time but in Ken Horner’s world it’s all about real sticks and shepherd’s crooks. He’s been making them for over 35 years and in so doing he has also been supporting Yorkshire Air Ambulance with any profit made from his work and that of his team of stick makers.

“We make the three main working farmer sticks that are the leg crook, lamb crook and full crook. The difference between each is the spacing in the head, which is for two, three or four fingers. We don’t make anything too fancy although some might ask for a curl in them, which we will do.

“We will make about 100 sticks a year that I will sell at sheepdog sales and monthly Saturday sales at Skipton livestock market or at Point to Point and other country meetings.”

Crooks are usually made from hazel, but Ken recalls a challenge once set for him by a friend.

“He’d been hedge laying and brought back this big piece of holly. It was about two inches thick with a knobbly end to it. He just said ‘there you are you clever beggar, see what you can make of that’. That was a job. I pared it down and down eventually getting it to walking stick size. I carved a horse’s head on it. I’ve still got it today.”

Ken’s colourful life has seen him working on farms in the 1940s, serving three years with Royal Engineers, running his own joinery business and being a successful breeder of both horses and Jack Russells.

“I’m now 84 and was reared on my grandfather Ernest’s Low Green Farm at Wike, tenanted from Harewood Estate. He was the last blacksmith to shoe horses for the Leeds-Harrogate coaches that went to Alwoodley crossroads. When that stopped he took on the farm where he had cows and sheep. I was there until 11-years-old, but my granddad died in 1943 and my father didn’t fancy farming as such on his own so he went to Goodall’s Manor Farm at Wike as a farm man before then moving to work for Leonard Snowden in Kirkby Overblow.

“When I was old enough I’d intended going to work for Major Ackroyd in the village. He had pedigree Ayrshires and a lady who had been a Land Girl was head of cattle. I was due to go there as under-cowman as I’d helped them on nights and weekends when I’d finished school lessons, but when my dad’s boss learned I was leaving school I went to work with dad as he had a tied cottage and he felt tied too. I stuck it for two years. During that time I’d been helping the village joiner and liked that life. I’d been on 25 bob a week plus five bob for weekends at the farm with dad but my wages didn’t go up so I tried joinery full-time.”

Ken’s deployment to the Royal Engineers came when an army recruitment inspector found him up a ladder in Hunsingore Village Hall.

“I’d been left out of army service because of my agricultural/country joiner work but in 1953 the inspector found me fitting a loft ladder in the village hall that my boss had asked me to do. I was sent to Stratford upon Avon for basic training before moving to Chatham and Wainscott in Kent. I was posted to Hong Kong but I never got there.”

Having returned to Yorkshire three years later Ken went back to his joinery career working for others before being told by a customer and personal friend that he should go it alone. This was the catalyst for his future with horses, sticks and dogs.

“I’d been working for this man on nights and weekends previously and knew him pretty well. He called me up and said ‘Get thee sen up here Ken, I want a Dutch barn building as other’s blown down and it’s about time thee got thee sen started on your own’. I handed in my notice and with his farm men we erected the barn and repaired the slate roof. It gave me my first six to eight months’ work.”

At around the same time a yard and eight acres of land came up for sale near Follifoot. Ken built a house on it and started breeding and buying horses. Initially he had part-bred Cleveland Bays but also moved into thoroughbreds.

“This was now the 60s. I started with one horse. I bought a thoroughbred mare with foal at foot. It went on to become the show jumper called Channel 5 that Mark Fuller bought and took to the Great Yorkshire Show. She won the showjumping on the Tuesday; was pipped by two-tenths of a second on the Wednesday; and won the Cock O’ the North on Thursday. I had up to 13 horses at one time at High Moor Stud, but I eventually sold it off. I’m still on the same land now but instead of living in a bungalow I now live in a large static caravan I bought from Rudding Park.”

Ken had been breeding Sheltie pups for a number of years before he turned his attention to Jack Russells.

“I’m now one of the leading breeders in the north of England, but it only came about because I was working at the Follifoot livery kennels which is where the strays were kept. Amongst them was a six to eight-month-old pup that was due to be put down. I said I’d have it and we’ve just gone from there. I now have 15 Jack Russells plus pups. Litters range from four to five, to seven or eight on the top side. My main Jack Russell colours are black and tan and pups that sell for around £275-£300 but the chocolate and tans are rarer and go for considerably more.”

Ken has also kept pigs and goats previously. He used the goats milk to feed the pups.

THOUSANDS RAISED FOR CHARITY

Ken has raised £42,500 for Yorkshire Air Ambulance through his sales of sticks and crooks; plus also repairing farm and garden hand tools that people bring to him for reshafting; and an annual dinner which, at this year’s event that will once again be held in Huby Village Hall in October, he hopes to announce that the figure will have reached £50,000.

“When I semi-retired I read about Air Ambulance and thought that would be the right cause for me as it is vitally important to have this kind of service in the countryside and has saved many lives.

“The dinner is something that is open to anyone to come along.

“It’s funny what being up a ladder in a village hall can lead to.”

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