This past Saturday I went out to my market garden for the weekly watering/weeding and, frankly, to do something to get my mind off putting Cody down. As I was unloading, I noticed the older brother of the landowner was out working the horses around the trail they have cut around the perimeter, so I quick dropped my scuffle hoe and ran down the lane to intersect them.
Dick was having the team drag their training sled for a few laps to keep them in shape now that the chores of the summer were done and encouraged me to climb on. His excuse was that the extra weight would work the horses more, which was more than enough to convince me to take a horse drawn sled ride!
The team consists of two beautiful Percheron mares, Winter and Minnie. Minnie is easily the largest horse I have ever seen, weighing in well past 2000lbs and that was before she became pregnant this year. In fact both mare’s are due to foal this coming April which will be reason enough to be around, especially with two children! Looking at these two incredibly powerful animals, it is easy to wax nostalgic to knights in armor or even to simpler times before 350hp 4wd tractors and 2000 acre corn fields. Yet, despite their mountains of muscle, they are docile enough to lightly pluck an apple from Bird’s little 4yr old palm -which I am coming to learn is one of the many charms of the Percheron.
It was fantastic to watch Dick work the horses, even in something as simple as pulling a sleigh in laps around the acreage. Dick has them trained to react to the slightest pull of the reins, and the horses are ever listening for his simple “Gee!” or “Haw!”-as he is in his seventies and weighs all of 130lbs, his horses must be trained to respect something other than force. Being horses, they are also a quirky bunch-Minnie likes to rush the slight hills on the property as if to show off her incredible strength, and Winter is ever ready to stop and munch some grass. By the second lap I found myself calling instructions as Dick and I talked about horses and I received an impromptu lesson in tree lore as we rounded the property.
As we finished, Dick was pointing to the neighboring land to where they sometimes pasture the team, and he mentioned that he planned to use the team to pull some oak limbs up to the owner’s home for him to use for firewood. In the roundabout way that he has about asking, I got the impression that he might like a hand with the project, so I mentioned that I was free every Monday if he ever wanted an extra hand on a chore. We talked more, and I expressed again my respect for the fact that they choose to work much of the land with horse power. It was then that Dick mentioned, again in his off hand way, that perhaps he could “show me a thing or two” about working a team.
Later that day as I conversed with the land owner about his idea of converting his ancient Oliver tractor to wood chip gasification (more on that in a future post-and yes we are birds of a feather!), he mentioned how good it would be if I would learn to work the team with Dick. I get the feeling he is a little concerned about his older brother working the team by himself. By the time I left he was talking like I would be plowing on my own by June…
As I walked back to the Insight, I tried to get all this through my stunned brain: Not only was I getting the free use of as much organic land as I wanted to run a market garden, I was now being offered an apprenticeship in becoming a teamster?!
Someone pinch me!