Rutland’s long history has been entwined with horses for as long as anyone can remember; you only have to see the number of decorative horseshoes that adorn the walls of the medieval Oakham Castle to know that the two are inextricably linked.
Our county emblem, the horseshoe, is not just a sign of our heritage, it’s also a sign of our superstitions and good fortune! In Rutland, all horseshoes are hung with their tips at the bottom, which some people consider to be upside down and bad luck. There are several reasons given for hanging them this way including, so that the devil cannot make a nest in the bottom of the horseshoe and so that luck falls from the horseshoe and is bestowed on those that walk beneath it. And we consider ourselves a very lucky county indeed!
Oakham Castle’s Great Hall was built between 1180 and 1190 for Walkelin de Ferrers, a Norman baron, it is England’s most complete surviving Norman hall, and the best preserved Norman Aisled Hall in Northern Europe. Oakham Castle is renowned for its collection of 230 horseshoes, which decorate the walls.
The tradition remains that visiting Royalty and Peers of the Realm should forfeit a horseshoe to the Lord of the Manor on their first visit to the town. The tradition is thought to be linked to the Ferrers family. During the Norman Conquest, Henry de Ferrers (Walkelin’s great-grandfather) was Master of Horse to Duke William. He used a coat of arms featuring six black horseshoes on a silver background. After the conquest Henry was rewarded with many grants of land, including the manor of Oakham.
During the 2016 £2.1million investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund, each of the Castle’s horseshoes has been carefully cleaned and catalogued. The oldest surviving horseshoe on display was presented by Edward IV (brother of Richard III) in 1470, after the battle at nearby Losecoat Field. The most recent horseshoes are those presented by the 6th Earl of Gainsborough at the Castle’s re-opening, and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall’s horseshoe, presented in 2014.
Our region is known for some of the most prestigious equestrian events in the social and sporting calendar, with spectators and competitors coming from all around the globe for international horse trials such as those held at Burghley House and Rockingham Castle.
The Cottesmore Hunt (pronounced ‘Cotsmore’) is one of the oldest foxhound packs in Britain. Its name comes from the village of Cottesmore (originally spelt Cott’s Moor, which is where the pronunciation comes from) where the hounds were originally kennelled, and its origins can be traced back to 1666. Since 2005, though, fox hunting has been banned in the UK and, rather than die out, the hunt has adapted and gone with the times, and sensibilities of modern day life, by using a series of laid and scented trails for the hounds to follow instead. If you’re interested in the history of hunting in the British Isles, then take a drive over to Melton Mowbray to visit the only fox hunting museum in the country.