Saturday, March 19, 2011

Driving Drafts

  Thursday and Friday, I had the chance to chase a dream I've been carrying around for a long time.  I took the horse driving class offered at Turner Farms.  The thing that was most interesting to me was that it leaned more heavily toward the farm equipment aspect than driving wagons.  The farm has four beautiful Belgians and the instructor, Tim, was very good at explaining how everything worked.  He wasn't afraid to let us jump right in and get dirty.   

  We started out with harnessing Ruby up as a single and Phred and Sam up as a team.

This was my view for the last couple of days.  After ground driving for a while, we hitched up to a forecart.  This is a two wheeled rubber tired cart that has a hitch on the back so that you can hook light tractor type implements up behind the horses.  The first implement I got to pull was a rotary hoe.  We ran it through a muddy field to wear the horses out a little bit because they were so full of energy.  I was amazed that they could pull as well as they did.  I would have never taken a tractor into that field.  We then hitched up to a four gang disc and started discing up a field full of last year's turnips to help it dry up some.  We broke for lunch and the four of us students and the instructor got to know each other better.  I noticed that the four of us had something very interesting in common.  We're all pursuing as independent and self sufficient lives as possible and have a love of old traditional farming.  After lunch we hooked up to the manure spreader.  This is a wagon that has a conveyor belt on the floor that is ground driven by the wheels.  The belt leads back to a set of beaters that chop the manure up and fling it backwards in a huge rooster tail.

I pushed the spreader up to a fast trot, which in reflection was a little too quick since I felt a few little crumbs fly forward and hit me in the back of the neck!  Important lesson there!!  Last thing for the day was the walking plow.  This is the old timey walk behind plow that seems so easy when you see an experienced person working it but is a real bear to get a handle on for a rookie.

I took three turns down and back and have a new respect for how farmers used to plow their whole farm with these things.  It absolutely wiped me out!  I was able to keep a fairly straight line going down hill because I was able to see a landmark to aim for.  When we were going uphill, all I could see was horses' rears.  I plowed beautiful zig zag patterns all the way up the slope.  I'm thinking that it takes a lot of time to develop the touch on the handles to get the share digging the correct way.

  The second day, we harnessed up Ruby, Phred and Sam three abreast.  We hooked up to the disc again and finished the turnip field.

Two horse were impressive but three were absolutely amazing.  You had to take a break at the end of each row to let the horses rest.  It was really nice to sit and listen to the farm sounds and the horses and just enjoy the warm day.  Definitely a change from working a tractor.  When the field was done, we hooked all three horses up in a unicorn hitch.  This is two horses side-by-side with a single horse hitched in front of them as a lead.  We hitched them to a grain wagon and drove into town to have lunch at the pub.  The wagon was about 16 feet long and sat up pretty high.  It was a little hair raising because it took up most of the lane and we were sharing the road with a lot of cars.  It's tricky because the lead horse and the pair each have their own independent sets of lines to control them.  I wish I had taken a picture but the whole thing took so much of my attention that I forgot.  It was impressive!  I'd say that the whole rig was around 30 feet long.

  If you're ever in the Cincinnati area and you even have a remote interest in draft horses, I can't recommend this course enough.  Both Tim and the horses were very patient and all the folks on the farm were terrific.  Turner farm also offers all kinds of other courses in traditional farming, husbandry and homemaking.  All in all, I would have to say that this was about the most worthwhile $150 I've ever spent!

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