Many eight-year-olds are glued to their phones or computers. Maia Fletcher, however, has a more traditional way to have fun.
The schoolgirl spends all her spare time helping her grandfather look after his five giant shire horses.
Maia, who is 4ft 6in, is not intimidated by the daunting size of the animals – which each weigh over a ton and are some 6ft tall – having first ridden one aged three.
Maia Fletcher, 8, spends her spare time helping her grandfather with his giant shire horses. She also goes to ploughing matches with grandfather John Fletcher, and helps him
Despite having her own pony at home, Maia is far more interested in the mammoth shires, despite having to stand on a step-ladder to help wash and groom them, and needing a leg up if she wants to go for a ride.
Her grandfather, John Fletcher, uses the horses to run his Gentle Giants business in Cardigan, Pembrokeshire, providing wedding and funeral horse-drawn carriage services, as well as performing at ploughing matches, vintage shows and carnivals.
While Maia is too young and not strong enough to work the heavy plough, she enjoys attending matches with her grandfather.
Taking the reins: With two of her grandfather’s shires. Her grandfather, John Fletcher, uses the horses to run his Gentle Giants business in Cardigan, Pembrokeshire
The giants that went to war
- The shire is the largest of England’s native horses at 16-18 hands (5ft 4in to 6ft).
- It is in the heavy horse category alongside the Clydesdale, Suffolk, Percheron and Ardennes.
- In the 18th and 19th centuries there were more than a million shire horses in Britain, the main source of power in agriculture.
- In the First World War the animals were sent to the front to pull heavy artillery. Thousands were killed.
- Mechanisation hastened their decline. In 2016 it was estimated that there were only 1,500 worldwide.
She has already learnt how to drive the horses when they pull a chain harrow, which is a piece of equipment that is used to level off uneven ground.
Mr Fletcher, 65, said: ‘I’ve got nine grandchildren and some of the other girls have helped out with the horses but none has been as horse mad as Maia.
‘She seems to prefer shire horses to all others and has a soft spot for Ned – she likes him more than her own pony.
‘He’s very gentle and just a real one-off horse, he’s so good at everything so he was great for her to handle and learn the ropes.
‘She’s not strong enough to work the plough, I don’t think she’ll be able to do that until she’s 14 or 15, but she comes to ploughing matches and helps me.
‘She can do chain harrowing and she’s very good at shouting instructions at them.
‘I taught her what to do and she picked it up very easily.’
Grooming her favourite, Ned. While Maia is too young and not strong enough to work the heavy plough, she enjoys attending matches with her grandfather
Mr Fletcher added: ‘It’s nice to see a kid interested in something other than a computer or playing on their phone all the time.
‘She loves helping out, she’s usually here after school and at weekends whenever she can.
‘She helps with grooming and washing them, although she has to be on steps to do that. And when she wants to ride one I have to give her a leg up to get on, but then she’s happy riding – she’s never worried about falling off.’