Haying With Horses

One thing leads to another on the farm, and the whole project takes on a life of its own as time goes along.  At our place it eventually became necessary to find a source of motive power for some of the bigger jobs, or we'd be staying at the poultry and gardening level, which wouldn't be bad except for those woolly cows that have worked themselves into our cares and routines.

I've never been a car person and could generally care less about what I drive, which is probably not a surprise given the looks of the old blue Chevy.  And I found I wasn't much of a tractor person either.  While some aspiring farmers dream about shiny yellow and green traction, I only ever wanted leather, hooves, and horse sweat.  In that way I suppose I was born about a century late, preferring a different rhythm and pace altogether.

Through a couple of my patients I got connected with a real rare live working teamster over in Liberty, Daryl Woolstenhulme, who not only sold me a well-broke pair of workhorse mares, but invited me several times to his place to work so I could learn how to avoid crushing a hand or breaking my neck.  Driving a team is pretty dissimilar to riding horses, and somewhat more complicated.  But after a few sessions the willies worked themselves out to where I could get going on my own.

There turned out to be quite a few jobs the team could help with, chiefest of which was putting up hay.  This also happened to be the part I had the most reservations about, having despised the whole process ever since I sneezed and coughed and spit my way through a summer job years ago.  At the time I thought I had a bad cold.  But it was obviously allergies, which continued to rear their ugly head years later whenever I had to handle more than a few small bales at a time.  So as I considered the scope of my ambitions with the draft horses, I sometimes wondered if I was a little insane to think I could even get the hay cut and piled, much less enjoy the whole thing.  At the same time I had an abiding feeling that the allergies might not be such a problem in a horse-based system, and that there might even be some undiscovered rewards.

Haying with horses was totally different than what I'd done before.  The 1947 mower cut each stem only once, leaving a nice five foot sweep of toppled grass without any of the shredded powdery dusty stuff that used to find its way into my eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and down my shirt.  I don't think I sneezed even once, and I certainly never had the itchy eyes I remembered so well.  Some of my rows were a little more serpentine than straight, so we made a few extra passes to catch the standing strips, but the horses raked it all up nicely in the end, and we forked it into a big pile that we tromped down and rounded off to shed the rain.  A month's worth of fine loose hay for 13 animals.

Best of all was the team's willingness.  One word was all they needed to lean into their collars and pull the mower upfield.  And when we called it a day and headed home, the smells of fresh loose hay and sweaty horses remained a pleasant, inoffensive memory.  The work turned out to be so rewarding that I sometimes found it a little hard to sleep the night before.  And after a solid winter (I hope) of sleigh rides and plowing snow, the girls should be in good shape for next summer's fieldwork.

    Fall 2012