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Four legs may be better than four wheels when it comes to environmental forestry but Frankie Woodgate, one of the UK’s few female horse loggers is hoping that her two legs will give her enough horsepower of her own to complete the Brighton marathon and raise money for SPANA (Society of Protection of Animals Abroad) on Sunday 14 April.

How evident is the love between horse and owner. This beautiful image by Keith Lovegrove captures just why Frankie will be running the Brighton Marathon for SPANA

Whilst Kent resident Frankie Woodgate has been fortunate enough to build up a cooperative, affectionate and respectful relationship with her workmates, a team of 900kg Ardennes draught horses, she is keenly aware that whilst they work hard, neither they nor she have to endure the daily hardships and challenges that so many people and their animals face across the developing world, often without access to vital veterinary care.

As a supporter of SPANA for a long time, the chance to challenge herself by running the Brighton marathon, and raise money for the charity seemed a perfect opportunity and with just a couple of weeks to go, Frankie has been cranking up the training.

Photographer Bob Atkins of NFU Countryside Magazine

Intrigued to find out more about Frankie’s day job as a female horse logger involves, we caught up with Frankie in between her training sessions.

Working as a horse logger is certainly unconventional and whilst a challenging career path, having done it for over 20 years, Frankie cannot imagine doing anything else. With a BSc (Hons) in Countryside Management, Frankie’s roots are very much in the woods and her company, Weald Woodscapes has been developed to reflect her interest in environmental forestry and to highlight the principles and practice of sustainable management.

Photographer Keith Lovegrove

Horse logging involves uses draught horse power to extract timber in a low-impact way since it avoids soil disruption and compaction. It means that woodlands can be managed on a range of sites:

“Global and regional concerns about forest biodiversity, sustainable land management and climate change, have prompted a reassessment of the vital role horse drawn timber extraction systems have to play in the conscientious, long term management and health of our forests and woodlands.”

Photographer Keith Lovegrove

“Modern horse drawn forestry equipment has developed to reflect and complement the diversity of woodland sites, timber product specifications and 21st Century management objectives.”

There are many other benefits of using horse logging compared with mechanical methods including the obvious lack of noise or fuel pollution and the fact there is no rutting or turning damage caused by heavy machinery. The horses are able to work on both steep and wet woodland and the process can also provide a light soil scarification which is ideal for creating a seed bed for natural regeneration.

Photographer Keith Lovegrove

Frankie and her horses Tobias, Yser and Salome carry out their physically demanding work for up to 8 hours a day in all weathers to sustainably fell trees, control bracken and extract timber from forests around the South East and, according to Frankie, the bond between her and the animals is somewhere between workmates and family.

“There are just so many benefits to having that relationship with a working horse – it’s unique. There’s a real sense of achieving something together.”

Working horse in Ethiopia

“It is hard work of course, it’s not for the faint hearted, but I do like a challenge. I suppose that’s why I’ve signed up for another challenge; it seemed like the best thing I could do to support SPANA.”

Frankie is hoping to raise £1,000 for SPANA which will help fund SPANA’s free veterinary clinics in countries like Ethiopia, Mali, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Tunisia.

Working horse in Ethiopia

SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad)

SPANA has been the charity for the working animals of the world since 1923, providing free veterinary care to horses, donkeys, mules, elephants and camels in some of the world’s poorest countries. Working animals support the livelihoods of around half a billion people in impoverished communities worldwide. The charity improves the welfare of working animals in three ways: free veterinary treatment, education and training, and emergency and outreach projects. Please see the charity’s website, for more information.

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