Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Reading - Recognizing Value

I got enlisted to help load up and take my Mother's riding horse and the old Donkey (That carried Mary to Bethlehem I think) to the horse shoe guy the other day.

Sometimes the horse shoe guy comes here, sometimes we have to go to him and sometimes he is out and about making calls and it's easier to meet him on location somewhere. This time he was just a  short hop down the road.

Getting the horses shod around here is an interesting experience these days. Years ago there was very little overlap as there were a number of Farriers who provided services but they have been in decline for a while now until the few who are left these days provide services way outside their group. For lack of a batter term.

What I mean is it used to be there were regular farriers and then there were Amish and Mennonite farriers and mostly I guess they took care of their own. Perhaps there was some mixing I wasn't aware of back then as the one we used had a truck and wasn't associated to any religious group I was aware of anyway. He pretty much took care of everyone's horses who were not Amish or Mennonite that I knew of, then he took off for parts unknown with a locals wife. I think all the horse women around here were pissed at the wife for stealing their farrier but I digress.

So the guy we use now has a van he uses when he travels that holds his tools. He wears a straw hat and I know my Mother coordinates with him by phone but he does not have a cell phone it's always messages through his home. I am assuming he is Mennonite or perhaps one of the quasi-fundamentalist sects that are related somehow. Truth is it gets so confusing sometimes I just don't bother to pry too much.

The place he was working out of had to be Mennonite though because they had a new John Deere 5000 series tractor with the metal wheels and a van parked near the house. We parked the truck and trailer off to the side of the long driveway and lead the horse and donkey in from a good distance just in case so as not to offend. To further muddy the waters though some very ancient looking old farmer came walking up the road leading what I believe was a Belgian cross draft horse but this old gentleman was wearing a heavy black coat and black hat.

Usually my general rule of thumb is straw hat equals Mennonite and Black hat equals Amish but I have also found there are many exceptions to that simple rule.

How far he walked that horse in the heat with that coat on I couldn't tell you but I wouldn't have wanted to do it. It was overcast out but still the sun was breaking through occasionally and felt hot to me in my shorts and t-shirt. As buttoned up as he was and as thick as that coat looked I imagine it was like walking around in Mop-3 gear like they used to make us do in the Army. Minus the rubber coated charcoal lining I guess.

As we waited our turn the old gentleman proved very chatty. In fact I am still not certain what his affiliation is because he seemed pretty open and had at least a passing familiarity with machinery. Then again things can get confusing as I have said before, there are so many sub-groups and mixing around here I sometimes doubt anyone actually keeps track.  The most important part for me was the old gentleman began giving me a verbal crash course in plowing behind a draft animal.

Not that I learned a whole lot since we didn't have a plow nor a spot to practice on but he did give me a few bits of wisdom I found interesting and thoughtful. He also declined having his picture taken. He told me the worst part about running a plow behind a horse around here were tree roots. Apparently even a smallish tree root can really mess up your day and badly injure the plowman if you are not careful. Apparently this also relates to the animal you are working behind being trained to stop almost immediately as one which is inattentive can prove fatal.

I hadn't thought of that before. The more I listened the more I realized that plowing behind a draft animal isn't as safe an activity as I thought. You had to be damned careful with how you held the harness, how you positioned yourself in turns and how much downward pressure you exerted. He also said with most draft animals plowing was a two man job as they almost all required soemone leading from the front.

I hadn't thought about that either. Although he did admit the animal he had lead down could be used solo but he would only do that in a  field he had plowed many times before and knew well.  He didn't get into tandem horse plowing except to say that had even an entirely different set of rules as well.

It gave me a lot to think about. Certainly training my own plow horse isn't in the cards anytime soon but it's nice to know that resource is still around in the immediate area if the need arose. I knew there was more to using draft animals than my ignorance even remotely would let me imagine. I just never thought it could be that complicated.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. PP - this whole post is kinda' what i was referring to in my last comment about coming across information on the internet, such as plowing with a lead animal(s), printing it off, reading it until the comprehension is there and praying not to ever need to use that information. there are so many things that we don't think of and don't know how to do and have never done - it's mind-blowing. might i suggest that you contact your farrier man and ask him who the old gentleman is and if he could contact him and ask if you can go over one afternoon and work with him? i don't know much about the amish or mennonite groups in the states - but in canada they are very friendly and willingly allow visitors on their farms to learn different things like barn-raising, plowing with animals, hand-baling, cooking, etc.

    i wish we had an amish/mennonite group here on our island but i have not heard of one. if i ever do, you can be sure that jam and i will make a visit, politely introduce ourselves and ask if they would be willing to teach us some things.

    your friend,

    1. kymber - I know where the old guy lives now. I doubt I would try and call on him though I have found these types can be quite friendly on neutral ground but not real happy about having outsiders enter their land. Actually the presence of women is sometimes a real factor. I have found it's also the easiest way to tell Mennonite from Amish as the Mennonite women can wear dresses with flower prints and such. There is another sect that wears solid blue long skirts I haven't really ID's yet too.

      My feelings are if approached the Amish and Mennonite Men would be more than happy to trade for plowing services and teaching. There is a large horse farm only about 3 miles from me as the crow flies that is staffed almost entirely by Mennonites and my cousin manages their breeding program for them.

  2. Im sure there is a lot of technique involved, however another factor is those old guys were accustomed to hard labor and much stronger than their physiques would leave you to believe. My great grandpa grew up plowing behind a horse in south texas and the earliest I can remember, when he was in his late 60's, he could flat out outwork almost anyone half his age. The same could be said for all his friends that weren't crippled in WWII or otherwise in poor health. Amongst people my age I only know two that can work like I saw them work and they all could do it.

    Also on the heavy coat, one of his friends owned a sawmill and wore cotton long john's under his overalls all summer long to help stay cool. Wethin minutes of starting to work they were soaked and S. Texas is arid so maybe it gave him some evaporative cooling. It doesn't make sense to me but it worked for him. However, black would seem a poor choice.


    1. Dan - That seems reasonable. I know I used to have to work with my ex-grandfather in law a lot on road construction and he would always wear a full sleeve cotton shirt buttoned all the way up even in 100+ degree weather with high humidity. I would look at him and he wouldn't even be sweating and I would think he was like a reanimated corpse or something.

      I am sure a lot of it has to do with what you get used to as well but ya Black in this humidity whooo.

  3. We have oxen at work and they seem to be a lot easier to handle than a huge horse and you train them to verbal commands from what I can tell. An ox doesn't require grain like a working horse does so they are low maintenance. Best to use steers as they have less hormone issues and are a lot calmer.
    Why do you guys shoe your horses, doesn't sound like they do much that would require shoes. I never have had mine shod. They probably make a break away connector for the plow by now so that if it hangs up it pops loose.

    1. Sf - ya know I couldn't really say why except I guess it has something to do with her riding although these days I think she just keeps him ready to ride because I haven't actually seen her ride him in almost a year now. All her riding buddies finally admitted they were too old for it. The Donkey I think develops hoof issues if not treated and shod often. That old donkey halter broke a metric buttload of colts over the years so even I don't complain too much about the extra money it takes to keep her somewhat comfortable in her retirement. The other old retired nags get shod but not nearly as often.

      The old guy mentioned some thing about a breakaway harness but said often the reins get wrapped around your wrist. I don't think I have ever seen oxen around here I wonder why they use horses more in these parts or maybe I just have seen one. Not like I know enough to even give a good observation really.

  4. by golly, you can learn so much stuff can't ya.

    1. Rob - We have forgotten so much that used to well known too.


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