Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Story of Catlips

This past week the missus and I have been busy with her final year research project, a survey of horse owners and equine veterinarians in hopes of determining attitudes towards physiotherapy--that is, alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropracticy, equine massage, etc. Physiotherapy is not as popular in the U.K. as it probably should be, and so the idea is to find out if this is due to ignorance, miseducation, or veterinary malfeasance. The survey is limited to the county of Hertfordshire, and the distribution process involves us driving around to every single livery stable and equine veterinary practice in the phone book.

It's actually a lot of fun. Hertfordshire is an odd, liminal area. The county includes urbanized tendrils of London, stretching up into cities like Watford and Barnet, satellite cities like St. Albans, quaint villages on the border with Essex and Cambridgeshire, and lots of very rural farming and grazing land. (Historical trivia: the imaginary line between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire counties dates back to the division of the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex!) We have been spending about five hours a day in Mary's little Citroen, puttering about down tiny little country roads in search of horse. It is very nice to meet so many British people for a change, especially since British horse people tend to be a bit oddball.

Yesterday, we were trying to find a stable evocatively named "Catlips" in the area of Chorleywood, near the western edge of the county. (Historical trivia: Chorleywood was the center of British Quakerdom before they all emigrated to Pennsylvania.) We have our trusty A-Zed of Hertfordshire, which showed that the farm was in the middle of a big patch of green, completely roadless. There was one vague line that seemed to indicate a driveway, so we tried to find it. Exiting off the A1, we (and by "we", I mean Mary) proceeded down a series of smaller and smaller roads, until we were hurtling around on a path barely big enough for our own car, let alone the occasional oncoming traffic. We kept on not being able to find the turnoff, so we slowly circled around the green patch on the map. Finally, we saw a little dirt driveway that indeed bumbled its way into a meadow, and eventually lead to a farm.

The farm? A bunch of rickety old wooden buildings, an aggressive rooster pecking away at the ground, and a grassy area in which were parked at least twenty decomposing motorhomes, lying fallow and gradually being overtaken by the woods. If we were in the U.S., this sort of scenario would make city people such as us think scary things about banjos, but this being the U.K., we quite had no idea what to expect. We poked our heads into the house trying to find a person, and found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of people who were all pawing away at a gigantic pile of horse boots, saddles, leads, and whatnot. Turns out that there was an unofficial used horse gear shop being run out of this farm, and there were several families checking out the merchandise. Mary waded through the crowd to hand off the surveys, and I waited outside, where a middle-aged British man in wellies commiserated with me. "Like a sale at Harrod's, it is, with these women!" he remarked companionably, although his accent was so thick he might actually have been telling me to haul my American butt out of town before he got out the shotgun. I just smiled back.

Mary successfully handed off her surveys, however, so we trundled our way back to the A1 and civilization. We never found out what was up with the name "Catlips." The mind boggles.


enchantress said...

This is a great story! I wish you guys luck with the rest of your horse adventures!

bbound said...

Thanks, Enchantress. But you know, since you don't have a blog in which to tell fun stories, one of these days you are going to have to email me and tell me how your class is going!

Anonymous said...

My friend told me about catlips, as i had old rugs i took them there to see what i could swop it for! oh my good it is such a freeky place!!! your story discribes it well. I found out that the house was an old tudor building, but still no explenation to the name 'Catlips"?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to catlips farm - jus stumbled across your blog! I actually have 2 horses stabled up at catlips and have been riding there for 12yrs. I must sadly inform you that the rooster was sadly eaten by the local fox since your last visit however nothing else is any different I am sure you'll be glad to hear!!
It is a shame that I did not bump into your missus on your visit as after just finishing my degree I have started a post grad course in Animal physiotheraphy with Animal therapy LTD (Sherry Scott - president of the IAAT). I have always used physiotherapy and laser treatments in the past when injuries have occured to my eventer (we do actually have a lot of horses who are competing at the top levels of eventing and dressage and find frequent physio very important especially with the development of our younger horses). If you need any help I would be very happy to help and I am interested in your findings from your survey as I will be working within the area once I am qualified. Please feel free to drop me a line at
good luck with your travels!!
J evans

Anonymous said...

I love the shop at Catlips. It has real character and reminds me of a bygone era. You can also find some amazing bargains in there. On your travels did you not go to any of the other yards in Chorleywood. There are many!. Absolutely hundreds and hundreds of horses live in Chorleywood. In fact Chorleywood has one of the largest populations of horses, for the size of the town in the UK.

shoe shop said...

I like this story really informative