Callum with his shire horses Callum with his shire horses

Long read: meet Callum, Max & Sam at Devizes

This Christmas, we're looking back at a well-loved story from 2018, when we met up with Callum and his shire horses at Wadworth Brewery on the Kennet & Avon Canal. Here's what Callum had to say:

They are lovely, just absolutely lovely. There aren't many working shires remaining in the brewing industry, so Max, Sam and Archie are helping to keep tradition alive. Wadworth Brewery sits right on the canalside, and there’s a long history with our brewery and canalside pubs along the Kennet & Avon Canal. Our three shires deliver ales to local pubs around the Devizes area.

My dad and I are horsemen who look after Wadsworth's shires. I could say there are so many great things about working with our horses, but for me it's particularly special that I can help keep the tradition of working shires going. My family has a long history with brewery horses - I'm the fifth generation in my family, so it’s on my shoulders. I'm proud, yes, even if sometimes it might feel a bit like a burden.

Keeping history alive

The furthest we can trace back in our family is to the late1800s. My great-great-great-grandad was a horse dealer for the brewery industry and other trades using shire horses.

As a family we've probably had 50-60 horses and it's hard to think of how life would be without them. My dad left school when he was 15, started working with brewery horses when he was 16, stopped for a bit when he was 30ish to have us kids... but then he was lucky to hear on the grapevine there was a job going at Wadworth in Devizes, so we moved down here as a family from Nottinghamshire where we used to live.

Shire horses at the brewery, near the Kennet & Avon Canal

My dad sees horses as part of the family. He could never really keep away from horses even when he left the job to have us kids. I’m the same, I left college at 17 to join here and I’ve been here for eight years now.

It's not about qualifications or who you know - it's about what you know. Because the knowledge has been passed on, the family name has got a good reputation. We have our family colours with shires, dark brown verging on black, with four white legs, a white blaze and at least 18 hands. That's our stamp and we don't have anything other than that. When we go to shows, we go to win. We only do five shows a year, but we like to win - and we've a fair few prizes.

Because I work with Max, Sam and Archie seven days a week, I know them inside out. When I have a week off I miss them and I'm itching to get back. This is why I started working with brewery shire horses. It's always been shires. Shires are amazing. They're just so majestic and calm.

As a family we love working with them, and we all want to get involved, we can't help ourselves. Most afternoons Grandad will still come over to see the horses and in the school holidays when we were kids we'd always be up here. We've only got one brother out of the three of us who isn't a horseman. He's a computer person, so he's the black sheep. Even my wife works at Wadworth.

You have to treat horses with compassion so that they treat you well equally. We sort of see them as colleagues. Max is the alpha horse. He's a grumpy old boy, but he's been very good to us he's wonderful. Sam's the newbie, he's been here around a year now. He's curious. Archie is the youngest and the biggest and he's so laid back it's painful. They're all completely different. I know all the things they like and their dislikes. Archie's tolerant to a good stroke and wants to say hello whereas Max just walks away.

Pub near the Kennet & Avon Canal  

They like the work deliveries. When I first started we used to do about 15 pubs a week delivering between 10 and 20 tons of beer a week. And we'd do the same run on the same days so on Mondays they knew which pubs they were going to turn in to and those they'd walk past. They'd literally race to a pub when they knew a particular lady was going to be there with an apple or carrot for them.

Mutual respect and trust

I start at six and they have their last feed at six in the evening every day, so it's long hours. So the horses really know me. Being in charge goes hand in hand with respect, mutual respect. I think the biggest thing is having their trust really. If they trust me and there’s a siren or anything like that, if they can hear my voice it can calm them and they'll walk right past without getting bothered. You get that trust from time. Like any animal, but especially horses, you win them over with their belly.

They're gentle giants but the biggest thing is the risk of getting crushed by them in the stable. They don't know their own weight. My grandad’s been crushed a few times by a shire horse. He broke his ribs and was hospitalised a few times. We don't usually ride our shires, although I have occasionally ridden Max. He's like a big sofa really, you don't feel every step.

They spend 50 weeks of the year in the stables, but then in the summer, they have a two-week holiday resting in a sunny field all together. They really love it. It’s even turned into a special occasion with crowds to see them drink a pint of beer before their first gallop in the field.

We try and let them retire before they get aches with age. It's hard when they leave. There’s been too much hard work not to love them.

The town just accepts horses. Wadworth Brewery was established here in 1875. There was a rumour circulating a few years ago that we weren’t going to use the horses any more and the town was absolutely in uproar about it! We're very proud of our horses. And of course everyone loves the beer.

Callum, Max & Sam, Devizes, Kennet & Avon Canal