Small Farmer's Journal

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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

Softcover
Hardcover

The Gate and the Way In, First and Last

by Paul Hunter of Seattle, WA

Sometimes the way into the heart of a subject is a magic word, that acts like a key to open locked doors at a touch. Such a word is “art” when applied to working horses. There is something to the work with these animals, a resonant expectation that is undeniably intuitive, subtle, aesthetically pleasing, and all-of-a-piece with one’s feelings and character. Hence an art. Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

It is an artful book in more ways than one, lavishly graced with many fine color photographs by Kristi Gilman-Miller, alongside Lynn Miller’s own strong, centered paintings and drawings. These visual counterparts surround and conjure a vision of the partnership that is working horses. In effect they open its world, drawing the reader to the emotional center, the teamwork, where he or she will sense the presence and depth of that mindful, purposeful existence that includes working horses to get things done. We stand and move with horses in the field, in the barn. Study horses leaning into their collars to take the load. Watch others before and after work run free. Here is a living ideal, that engages the senses, that girds together the language and images of a lifelong learning process into an artistic whole.

Yet the art Miller speaks of and embodies in the writing can be hard. It is built on a platform of sound practice, yet exists beyond rules, exceptions and warnings, in the intuition that can outstrip logic in its mastery. As Lynn Miller points out, horses benefit by knowing what they’re going to do, by expectations and repetitions that keep them focused and calm, ready for what the teamster wants and needs them to do next. As always he insists upon close observation, of the horse’s health and stance, on examining the feet, checking the collar, the mouth, fingering everywhere the harness touches. There are no trivial matters, no irrelevant steps to achieving the artful ease he seeks. In this culmination full of stories that his Preface calls “wonderful contradictions,” he admits to idiosyncrasies, to ways of doing he has gathered over a lifetime, and points to how others did and do things differently. And the art can appear without warning, often in small, unexpected turns that can seem obvious yet may be anything but.

So in the end it’s neither pictures nor lessons but the stories that bear the load. In an understated but definite way, without fanfare, explanations or excuses, Lynn Miller sets his stories free to tell themselves. These are memorable moments. Not every teamster will have so many, nor will they be so strong. But these are the wages of a lifetime in harness, of close observation, thought and feeling, doing the work he loves.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

So let’s look at a few. Often there will be a wry edge and twist to his description, in lieu of any final lessons learned. The effect is to smarten the reader, as he does his horses, with challenges and encouragements. Listen to this potential disaster disarmed, as the bridle falls off his mare Lana, and gets tangled around her knees:

Matter-of-fact, I just walked up and fixed the bridle. I knew this team, I knew Lana. I knew what she was capable of. And that’s what I mean about that trusting relationship. That’s the kind of relationship you can and should have with these horses. But you MUST earn it. It takes time and an open mind. They’ll give it to you but you have to ask them for it, and if you’ll forgive a little cheekiness, you have to hold your mouth just so. (p. 211)

The tone to this conclusion is playful yet earnest. And in some of these stories there is a beauty and art to even the terrible. Miller has a young stallion, Abe, who has been beaten by a caretaker and run away. When they get the outlaw horse back, Miller struggles to be present to this abused and damaged animal, somehow managing to remind the animal of their connection, all the while he never confronts or challenges the horse. Averting his gaze and distracting his own mind from the animal’s menacing actions, he wins the stallion over with patience and a superb sense of timing, that over many months comes to see and offer each next step as the horse is ready for it. Their interactions are minute—a handful of straw scattered in his stall, a little mucking with a pitchfork, a halter unlatched and slipped off, a piece of binder twine draped a moment over the stallion’s neck, then pulled away. Yet in what seems a powerful, potentially lethal dance, they end up finding quiet answers for both man and horse, a healing that feels complete.

The real payoff of the book unfolds in the telling of these stories, that are understated and wise. Miller is never the outright hero, more the modest, patient observer willing to try practically anything to alleviate the situation. Often in a critical moment he has to recall and act on his own or others’ advice from years past; he has to summon the understanding and ability to act, without making a risky situation worse.

Is there beauty to this? I venture to say there must be. Miller has a notion that every moment with his horses in harness is either a teaching moment or an unwinding, a potential unraveling, a step forward as a team or a step back. So on p.172-73, while mowing a field he notices how his horses are anticipating a turn, wanting to move on their own initiative rather than awaiting his signal. These intelligent animals sense and know a lot, but they can’t see everything, and there are hidden dangers apparent to the eye of experience, that make it better that they be reminded to always await his command. The veteran teamster insists that they be patient, and reinforces their acceptance of his lead.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

By the end of the book the reader may feel quietly blessed by this gathering of stories about interactions with horses, that can’t help but be not just about matters of training and command, but about self-knowledge and self-worth. With so many years of work with so many horses, Lynn Miller might be forgiven if he kept to that high ground, sure of our understanding and respect. But the book is intended not as decoration for the wise teamster’s shelf, but as understanding for the reader that will support both everyday actions and lifelong choices. That might lead to the attainment of another’s hardwon art. And to that end, there are also a few stories here that show the author as beginner, as rank amateur, as unseasoned, given to careless or thoughtless oversights that might affect any of us starting out, still unaware of potentially lethal effects. And we could be forgiven for calling them doubly courageous.

So consider his story of Bud and Dick, a seasoned team pulling an Oliver riding plow borrowed from Ray Drongesen, back in 1975. Lynn Miller was young, but had been working horses going on half a dozen years, and he may have been forming or about to form the thought that would become the Small Farmers Journal, that first appeared to modest acclaim in 1976. He’d been warned by Ray that the seat was loose, not to be trusted. But he tested then trusted it anyhow, sharpened the rolling coulter to a razor’s edge, then got into the field and got plowing. This was in part practice for a competition, and he was lulled, perhaps distracted by the steadiness of the seasoned team and the precision of the plow’s controls. Then the seat broke and he was tossed forward under the plow, under the feet of his horses and the tongue of the plow, with one thigh up against that sharpened coulter, a steel disc meant to bite deep into sod. The horses had stopped in an instant. Then he says:

I tried to regain my presence of mind. I concentrated as hard as I could. I didn’t say anything for fear that they would take the sound of my voice to mean that I wanted them to step ahead. I didn’t say anything at all.

I concentrated and I thought, “Oh, please, dear God, if you do anything, Bud, Dick, if you do anything at all, please just back up. Just back up.” And I concentrated and looked up at them. (p. 325)

The reader is present at a miracle. A private one, but a miracle nonetheless. Those two good, smart horses looked at him, sensed their predicament, and read his mind. I don’t need to go on. What is offered in this final story of the book is the kind of blessing that tells even a beginner that he’s doing something right, and that maybe he should keep on keeping on.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

In the author’s note at the end, Lynn Miller calls himself “a work in progress,” that may be a nod to the hallmark of his style, a strangely linked ambition and humility. But we shouldn’t be misled. Art of Working Horses is an attempt to seize and offer up an ineffable, ineluctable and inexpressible drive that carries some fine men and women to make working horses the center of their character and purpose, a cornerstone to a lifetime of accomplishment. The art that awaits them (you, gentle reader) may be an affection and embrace wider than one’s species, far wider than one’s arms. With exactly 365 pages to this book, precious little gab and gush to it anywhere, and art on every page, perhaps the reader will settle into a patient rhythm, find deepening satisfaction in poring over one page a day for a year, for all the gems in plain sight, rough and polished, hidden here. This is one to live with, and carry on.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Blacksmithing Secrets

Blacksmithing Secrets Part 2

by:
from issue:

One of the main advantages of having a forge in the farm shop is to be able to redress and make and temper tools like cold chisels, punches, screw drivers, picks, and wrecking bars. Tool steel for making cold chisels and punches and similar tools may be bought from a blacksmith or ordered through a hardware store; or it may be secured from parts of old machines, such as hay-rake teeth, pitchfork tines, and axles and drive shafts from old automobiles.

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

Eighteen Dollar Harrow

by:
from issue:

This is the story of a harrow on a budget. I saw plans on the Tillers International website for building an adjustable spike tooth harrow. I modified the plans somewhat to suit the materials I had available and built a functional farm tool for eighteen dollars. The manufactured equivalent would have cost at least $300.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Swaledale

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Swaledale

by:
from issue:

Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil Building a Fire

Farm Drum #29: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Building a Fire

Lynn Miller & Pete Cecil talk about Blacksmithing basics, and Pete demonstrates building a fire in the forge.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

by:
from issue:

Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

Horseshoeing Part 2A

Horseshoeing Part 2A

As there are well-formed and badly formed bodies, so there are well-formed and badly formed limbs and hoofs. The form of the hoof depends upon the position of the limb. A straight limb of normal direction possesses, as a rule, a regular hoof, while an oblique or crooked limb is accompanied by an irregular or oblique hoof. Hence, it is necessary, before discussing the various forms of the hoof, to consider briefly the various positions that may be assumed by the limbs.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Camembert

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Camembert

by:
from issue:

Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

The Tip Cart

The Tip Cart

by:
from issue:

When horses were the main source of power on every farm, in the British Isles it was the tip-cart, rather than the wagon which was the most common vehicle, and for anyone farming with horses, it is still an extremely useful and versatile piece of equipment. The farm cart was used all over the country, indeed in some places wagons were scarcely used at all, and many small farms in other areas only used carts.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT