Deeping St Nicholas family help preserve the Percheron

Mike Henfrey in 1995 at the Peterborough Show with Park Valentine and Pinchbeck George.
Mike Henfrey in 1995 at the Peterborough Show with Park Valentine and Pinchbeck George.
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Being placed one from bottom in a Percheron horse class was a success for Mike Henfrey.

He had spent the previous 20 years coming last, ever since he and his late wife Jackie started breeding and showing the heavy horses.

That early struggle to succeed has been more than made up for though with the success their son Tom has had over the years.

Mike (76), of Deeping High Bank, Deeping St Nicholas, says: “I can honestly say Tom must be among the all time greats because he beat the lot and he has won nearly every county show in England.”

Not only that, but Tom achieved the ultimate prize, the All England Driving Championships and had supreme champion in all England, holding both cups for a number of years.

It’s a passion for Mike and Tom, and one borne out of Mike’s early love of horses from when he first started working on his uncles’ farm at Crowland.

While his uncles couldn’t wait to get a Ferguson tractor, Mike loved the heavy horses that he had first helped to care for as boy during the war.

He and Jackie married in 1963 and soon decided to start Park Stud in Crowland to help preserve the Percheron breed.

Previously, most farmers had Percherons, says Mike, mainly thanks to two famous local Percheron studs – the Sneaths at Pinchbeck and the Drury family of Postland.

Mike says: “The day I married Jackie we hadn’t got a horse on the farm, and we had one ambition, to replace them.

“We managed to do that but it was difficult because horses were being slaughtered by the hundreds each day. Nobody wanted them.

“Just a few dedicated breeders kept them until they no longer could and I suppose I jumped on the bandwagon.”

The first Percheron came from Vauxhall Brewery and Mike says by this time he was using tractors on the farm, but would put the horse to work “as a bit of pleasure”.

In time, he and Jackie were asked to appear at carnivals with their three horses and a cart that was supplied, and then they took them to agricultural shows, where they would routinely come last. It was overhearing his turn out being described as “terrible” that spurred Mike’s ambitions.

Thankfully they began to have more success with their stallion Digger and favourite mare Valentine, who went on to have 15 foals. Mike says he was “elated” the first time they came one from bottom.

He says: “That was the first rung of the ladder. That would be the mid-70s and we went up and up until we got to Tom.”

Mike’s hopes now rest on the next generation, his grandaughter Alice (17) and her brother Luke (14).