The Entire Men (or stallion walkers) were a breed apart. Travelling from farm to farm it was their duty to lead the 'entire horses' (stallions) to visit mares during the covering season. Stories about the entire men abound among heavy horse keepers. They had to exercise absolute power and control over the heavy horse stallions in their care.
As well as supervising the covering of mares, the entire man was required to keep the entire horse in peak condition during the breeding season when the stallion was often required to cover several mares in one day.
One or two of the original horsemen's notebooks discovered in the course of this project contain several recipes for potions and tonics for keeping entire horses fit and healthy during the hectic breeding season. The highly toxic (supposed aphrodisiac) spanish fly was one such recommended ingredient.
The entire man also had to ensure that covering was achieved safely and succesfully.Entire men also collected covering fees and kept careful accounts. (See the facsimilie account book page reproduced below.)
A page from an original entire man's account book, circa 1910
The Entire Man would often sleep in the stable or barn with his charge, ensuring the animal's wellbeing day and night.
Heavy horse stallions could be unpredictable, and this, coupled with their enormous strength and power, could make them dangerous if not handled expertly.
The entire men were also responsible for advertising the prowess of their horses. A popular form of advertisment was the stallion card. These listed the potential stud horse's physical characteristics (size,colour, etc.) as well as its breeding history and pedigree. The entire men would visit farmers and breeders in advance of the breeding season and exhibit the stallion's credentials in the form of these cards.
The Wisbech Shire Horse Association has a number of these charming 'calling cards' in their archive.
Another way of advertising a stallion's potential was to parade it up and down on market day. Horse walkers would plait the stallion's mane and tail with ribbons, polish up the coat and hooves, and ensure that the brasses and harness were shining. If the magificent creature on display caught the eye of a passing farmer or breeder, the details would be entered into a notebook in readiness for a future visit.
Excerpt from the Horseman's Word film script: 'The Entire Men'
The Entire Men they was called .... them stallion walkers.
See here, if you’d got a mare to be covered, the entire horse, the stallion,
had got to visit and do the job.Now these men would have to walk around the countryside leading them ‘entire’ horses from place to place.
Right bastards some of those stallions were.
Oh, they’d pretty them with ribbons with the brasses all shone up …
but still, they’d have nigh on a ton of muscle and bone prancing about
on the end of a rope. Hooves like dustbin lids …
with iron-shoes on them. But you couldn’t show them no fear,
you had to be the master of them, you see.
Now, if a shire stallion takes it into his head to play you up,
there ent’ much you cun do about it. It was a dangerous job alright, and a lot of them horse walkers got killed.
Yes, they was the real horse masters … they took their lives in their hands every day … walking them big stallions.
A list of names of entire men employed by the
Wisbech Shire Horse Society, circa 1928.