Olga Pyne Clarke (1915-1996): Life and Labour

Olga Pyne Clarke always used her knowledge of horses to find work. Throughout her life, Olga trained horses, sold horses and worked in horse-racing. These were all jobs that Olga loved because they let her work with horses. At horse auctions Olga knew how to spot a potential horse, train them and then either race or re-sell them for profit. If a family needed a horse tamed and ready to be ridden, Olga would be hired to do so. In England, Olga quickly found work in stables where her chores focused on the feed and grooming of horses. Wherever Olga went, her knowledge of horses helped her find work.    

      As Olga’s family owned land, they had the ability to farm it. Olga recalls in detail her process of working in the fields as a child. On her family’s ‘39 acres’ (p.69), Olga had an array of jobs to do. She would wake up at ‘4.30am’, ride the horses ‘bare-back’ for two and a half miles to then collect her families ‘mowing machine’ (p.70) upon her return. She would then ride this machine all day long stopping only for lunch and dinner breaks. When the weather was good, Olga describes spending her days raking the fields with a ‘tumbling rake’ (p.71) to harvest oats which, it seems, was hard work working with a heavy rope on horseback. Her least favourite job was the ‘cleaning of the banks and ditches’ (p.74), this job, of course, was done without the help of horses. Working on her family’s land taught Olga to respect horses as both a beast of burden and an outlet for leisure. She took these skills, I believe, into adulthood in how she viewed work.

      Olga’s depiction of horses and farming is one that suggest her labour brought her a deep sense of community. As Thomas Baldwin explains, Irish farming required ‘co-operation’ (p.124) between neighbouring land owners. Olga mentions this in her descriptions of the machinery she used. Machinery was shared between Olga’s family and her neighbours, Olga explains that ‘which ever of our neighbours was finished first with their mowing machine lent it to us’ (p.70). Within her own farm, Olga describes how each of the tasks she worked on were done with the most efficiency. The knifes of the mower were sharpened in a sequence so that ‘no time would be lost’ (p.70) between each sharpening. This feeling of community followed through into Olga’s adulthood as well. During the Second World War in England, Olga willingly worked as a ‘salvage officer’ (p.221). She would go door to door asking for ‘bones, tins, newspapers’ and ‘brown paper’ (p.221), getting to know her local community. Without work, Olga would become bored; it was through labour that she found satisfaction. Olga, on the evenings with ‘nothing to do’ (p.222), began work volunteering at a canteen. Through working, Olga found that she could ‘keep going’ in times of trouble. She called this act of perseverance kicking herself ‘into the bridle’ (p.222). Labour, to Olga, gave her a sense of meaning and community.    


Baldwin, T. (1874). Introduction to Irish Farming. Macmillan, London

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