Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hold your Horses


It's been interesting getting to know our neighbors. We've found whole categories of interests, hobbies, and philosophies that don't show up much in city life. Several of our neighbors, for instance, spend a fair bit of time and effort doing things "the old fashioned way", sometimes because "the modern way" requires infrastructure they're not sure they'll always have, sometimes just to prove they can, and sometimes because it's simply more fun that way. One neighbor in particular keeps a team of beautiful Norwegian Fjord horses. They're a small draft horse breed, gentle and strong and always some shade of tan. His are called Bob and Ike (as I recall, Bob's on my left in this picture), and I drove them the other day.


This neighbor also keeps milk cows, and cows require bedding -- in this case, straw. You spread the straw all over the stable floor and the cows live there. When one layer gets ... um ... messy, you spread some more on top. Periodically, especially as part of spring cleaning, you take out all the matted layers of composting straw and whatever the cows have mixed into it, and pile it up to compost some more, after which it becomes excellent fertilizer. One of my favorite books on the subject of this "old fashioned" lifestyle nearly waxes rhapsodic on the joy of mucking out the cow shed, and the satisfaction that comes from a well-stacked manure pile. In any case, this neighbor needed straw for cow bedding, and had arranged with another neighbor to haul off some of the smaller bales of straw remaining after the wheat harvest. My job was to drive the horses to the field, and throw the bales onto the wagon.


As it turns out, at least with well trained horses pulling a light load (the wagon was empty when I drove it) over a good road, there's not much to it. You yank on the reins on one side or the other when you want to turn, or on both to stop, and shake them a bit to go faster. It helps a bunch if someone whose voice the horses recognize is watching over your shoulder and can repeat the voice commands the horses ignore when coming from you. Even better if he takes over to drive the horses and their several hundred pounds of straw back up the hill and home.


There's a great deal of trust that comes from working with animals, as I'm learning even with our cats and poultry. On the rare occasion the birds get out of their enclosure, for instance, they generally want to get back in as much as we want them to, so all we have to do is get out of the way and let them do it. With the horses, they'll drive straight into the ditch or the irrigation lines if you tell them to, and it's perfectly clear standing next to Bob and Ike that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted if they chose to disregard you. But when you and the animal understand each other, stuff gets done remarkably well.

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