Time For Giving Thanks To Horsepower
 By Winniefield Park   •   19th Oct 2013   •   1,739 views   •   0 comments
Time For Giving Thanks To Horsepower

Of course, we should be giving thanks every day. However, autumn is the time to gather friends and family in our comfortable homes to celebrate the bounty of the summer's growing season. Lots of places have a year round growing season too, but in the northern hemisphere, spring planted crops have been harvested, and winter is approaching. But, what does this have to do with horses? As it turns out, plenty.

Not that long ago, horses were the main source of pulling power, and any implement needed to prepare fields, care for crops and gather the harvest was probably pulled by a horse. Oxen were used too, but horses were more versatile. Horses not only could pull the plow or hay-rake during the week, they could also pull the family to church with more speed and style.

A good team of horses was the pride of many farmers. However, a good team wasn't always easy to put together. Then as now, horses had their own quirks that could be difficult to deal with. My father tells of one such horse. Modern vets might have diagnosed this horse as being narcoleptic, have problems with its stay apparatus or was sleep deprived. But, hitched to an implement, the horse had to be constantly kept moving. If the horse was allowed to stay still long enough for it to cock a back foot and relax, the horse would simply fall over. Of course, my father, being a teen with better things to do than work in the field, let the horse rest at the end of a row. Down the horse went, breaking the shafts and landing my father in some hot water with his father.

Time For Giving Thanks To Horsepower
My father looking at a tall boy crop sprayer like the one he and the horse destroyed the shafts on

My father's father was a horseman, but my mother's father wasn't. He only had horses because they were necessary for his work. One time he bought a work horse and couldn't figure out why it always drooled. Finally, someone thought to check its mouth. The horse had no teeth.

The amazing thing about many of these farm horses is how well they knew their work. Horses that pulled milk wagons knew all the stops the milkman needed to make, and could almost do the deliveries themselves. Horses that knew how to plow a field or help bring in a crop knew when they had to stop or turn around at the end of a row. Most would know their way home at the end of a day.

Logging horses had to work hard and have quick wits. Pulling a skid of logs through the uneven terrain of a bush was dangerous work. Horses learned how to stop quickly along the banks of a river so the loggers could unhitch the logs, sending the logs skidding into the river. A miscalculation by horse or handler meant disaster. Horses and lumbermen were lost as logs ran into them. It was difficult, hazardous work.

The work of pulling loads of ice off of rivers and lakes was hazardous as well. Ice was stored over the summer months to keep food cold, before the days of electric refrigerators. It wasn't unusual for horses and men to fall through the ice. One account describes how horses were rescued from the frigid ice by tying a rope tightly around the horse's neck until its lungs inflated, causing the horse to float up. I don't know if that was what really happened, but an unconscious horse would be easier to drag out of the water than a flailing, panicked one.

There's no question horses were instrumental in clearing and cultivating the land we live from. So as we sit down to a generous meal, in our warm homes, let's give thanks to the 'original horsepower' that got us where we are now.

Horse Team Image Credit: © Becky Swora |
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