Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre to appear in TV documentary

Cotebrook Loch Carron and her son Sgurr Alasdair just born.

Cotebrook Loch Carron and her son Sgurr Alasdair just born. - Credit: Archant

When a TV team making a new primetime natural history series wanted to film a horse giving birth they headed to Tarporley, writes Martin Pilkington

Janet and Alastair King

Janet and Alastair King - Credit: Archant

Alistair and Janet King’s Shire Horse Centre near Tarporley is set in 50 acres of very lovely countryside, doubtless a factor when ITV producers were making a decision about where to film for their series.

But according to Alistair it was the breed and its nature that was the draw: ‘The series is all about different animals giving birth. They decided they wanted to capture a horse being born, so why not film the biggest horse in the world, the Shire horse?’

When the film company contacted The Shire Horse Society they were directed to Cotebrook for good reason: ‘We’re a stud farm, one of the biggest in the country, so we mate more horses of the Shire breed than anybody else here,’ says Alistair: ‘And we have probably the best and most prolific stallion anywhere in the world, Moorfield Edward, who’s the father of the foal that ITV filmed being born.’

Cotebrook is known for the quality of its horses too: ‘We aim to breed the best of the best. Moorfield Edward every year breeds at least one of the national champion mare, stallion, or gelding, and sometimes all three, and has done for years – he even sired the American national champion two years ago,’ adds Alistair.

Cotebrook Shires

Cotebrook Shires - Credit: Archant

Alistair and his own team have themselves filmed most of their Shire births for the last eight years or so, using CCTV, but that didn’t mean it was a simple process capturing the event for TV: ‘Even though they’ve been filmed before, you’ll never ever get a horse used to it. The horse is an animal of flight wary of anything that might be a predator, and while my horses love me to bits, they won’t foal if I stand there watching them,’ Alistair explains: ‘I have to stay out of the way until they go down, then can go to them to help deliver the baby. You can’t just stand there watching them from the outset.’

As the birth was four days later than expected the crew had plenty of time to do background filming of the farm, the Shire horses, and the other animals at the centre – red deer, otters, polecats, Hebridean sheep, even rare Scottish wildcats. Alistair has owned Shire horses for nearly 50 years, and notices all the signs that a mare is about to foal, but to avoid the crew missing the birth they stayed at the Alvanley Arms next door to the centre. He provided them with a walkie-talkie so he could give them instant notice.

‘All the lighting was set up beforehand. The actual night of the birth I was confident the mare, Cotebrook Loch Carron, was about to foal. I pulled the horse box round into fairly close proximity to her, so they could hide behind the drawn curtains in the sleeper cab, ready to go - I was in the house watching on CCTV, talking to them on the radio. When she went down I went in first and then they came over very quietly and did their filming, and it went very well.’

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The arrival of Sgurr Alasdair, as the foal has been named, will be shown as part of a six-part series, Amazing Animal Births, later this year. Cotebrook already sees about 30,000 visitors a year, and TV fame may well increase that number, just strolling around to admire the animals, or even getting closer to them guided by Alistair on one of their experience packages.

Alastair King with foal, SGURR ALASDAIR, and mare, Cotebrook LOCH CARRON

Alastair King with foal, SGURR ALASDAIR, and mare, Cotebrook LOCH CARRON - Credit: Archant

Every birth is exciting, and Sgurr Alasdair’s more so than most for obvious reasons, but for Alistair the year’s, and perhaps his career’s highlight lay elsewhere. ‘I was selected to judge the Shire Horses at the Horse of the Year Show in October at the NEC, the 17 champions from the 17 biggest shows around the country,’ he explains: ‘And it’s a once in a lifetime thing, you can only do it one time.’ w

Amazing Animal Births, a six part series, is scheduled to start on Friday 8th July at 8pm on ITV1.