Kiger Fun and a Lot of Learning
by Jessica Lindsey of Beavercreek, OR
photos by Jessica Lindsey, Walt Bernard, Kris Woolhouse and Rukha Fuerst
The past two summers I loaded my three Kiger mustang mares into the stock trailer and drove from my home in Beavercreek, Oregon down to Dorena, Oregon where I spent the summer at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis, owned and operated by Walt Bernard and Kris Woolhouse. Walt and Kris employed me to do work for the market crops. They grow mainly vegetables in twelve hoop houses and in the fields. I did everything from sowing seed in the propagation house to tying up tomatoes to weeding to digging potatoes, to harvesting. They also hired me to do some field work with my horses. When I wasn’t being paid to do the farm work, I trained my horses or canned some tomatoes and fruit.
The trip started at the beginning of July so the day after I arrived, I went right to work using a side-delivery rake to rake a pasture that had been mown for hay. All three of my horses were completely untrained when I got them and the first mustang, Rubi, came from the Kiger herd on the Steens mountains in Eastern Oregon. Since my family was new to horses when we got the first mustang, it took me many years to learn how to train them to ride and drive. Now I can ride, drive and pack all three to various extents. My mustangs are relatively small – Rubi, who is bay, is about 13.2 hands and the other two buckskins, Hidalga and Oriana, are both about 14.2 hands. Rubi has a lot of heart because she has to pull the same amount as her daughter Hidalga even though she is smaller. Last summer the horses and I were finally ready to learn to mow so Walt helped me train the two more experienced ones – Rubi and Hidalga — to pull my 5 foot McCormick #9 mower.
This summer the horses and I went right back to mowing with no problem. We mowed an oat field that had done poorly so there were some weeds mixed in including some really thick stalked thistle-like plants. It was a really hot day and a fair bit to mow so my horses were very sweaty and tired by the time we were done but they again proved their stamina and willingness to do their best to try to do what I asked of them. Then I drove all three mustangs down the road on the forecart and hooked to the side delivery rake. Two of my horses can pull the rake but I used all three of them so that they would have something to do. What a nice job raking makes. It is pretty easy for the horses so they can relax into a nice walk and there is not a lot to worry about other than driving. The rake is also pretty quiet which supports the relaxed feeling.
After the field was mowed and raked Walt and I hitched three of his draft horses onto his ground-driven baler. The ground-drive baler looks like a normal tractor baler but has a large drive wheel on one side with some gears to power the machine. We got Walt’s horses used to the loud noise of the baler by walking them around it while it was being run with a tractor. It turned out that the baler was too much of a pull for three horses and they had to really pull to get the fly wheel turning. Once the fly wheel got to spinning the inertia of it kept the machine going and the pull wasn’t as hard on the horses. The next day we used four horses on the baler and that worked a lot better. We were able to finish off the smallish field and, after using the horses to bring the bales home on a wagon, we stored about a hundred 100% horsepower bales into the barn. That sure was a satisfying feeling. The haying season ended with some oats that Walt combined which I mowed and raked with my horses.
By then the buckwheat cover crop in the market field was ready to be plowed under. A few years ago my dad, who is a carpenter and general handyman, helped me restore my Oliver plow. The plow has a 9-10” share depending on how you measure it. The plow would go pretty deep into the ground even when I hitched at the lowest setting on the vertical clevis and was sometimes a hard pull for my horses. I put a depth wheel on my plow and set it so that the plow goes 4-5” deep and now it is not hard for them to pull unless the ground conditions are really bad. The buckwheat covercrop was really easy to plow. The soil was pretty loose and the plow sliced easily through the buckwheat roots and smoothly turned the organic matter into the soil. After struggling with plowing in the past, you sure learn to appreciate when the conditions are just right and the horses are working good so that everything runs smoothly. With minor guidance, everything practically runs itself. I used Rubi and her daughter Hidalga on the walking plow. Hidalga and Oriana pulled the spring tooth harrow to smooth out the field and break up the strips of plowed ground that had already crumbled quite a bit while plowing due to the ideal plowing conditions.
With the immediate plowing that had to be done out of the way, we were freed up to practice various hitches. For fun I drove Rubi and Hidalga tandem. Together Walt and I practiced four-up tandem driving. To help us have an easier time learning and to help the horses learn where they should be Walt and I tied the wheel horses onto the leaders with bungee ties. It takes a little getting used to to feel familiar with driving horses in tandem. It is more important to drive the leaders (especially if the wheelers are tied in) so I tried to mainly focus on the leaders who were far out front at least while I was getting used to having four lines in my hands instead of two. The way that Walt and I were holding the lines, by rotating our wrist, we could turn the horses a fair bit. But in order to do a 180o turn I had to shorten my inside leader line quite a bit and inside wheeler line a little. With a good bit of tandem ground driving behind us, we hitched up to a huge tire using a rope and pulley system onto a double tree and practiced driving that. Soon we were out discing in Walt’s field across the road. Walt has a John Deere KBA disc that was originally used for a tractor but that works well for larger hitches of horses if you put a seat and platform on it. The soil was pretty dry since it hadn’t rained for a while and that field doesn’t get irrigated. The disc didn’t go down very deep but the field was large (I think Walt said it was ¼ mile on the long side) so horses and people got a lot of good practice in while doing a little work so we will be ready when the soil conditions are ideal for getting a lot of discing done.
After a lot of irrigation, the oat patch back on the main farm land was ready to be plowed. We used Walt’s team and my team simultaneously so we were quickly ready to disc with the 4-up. After discing we hooked the 4-up to Walt’s cultimulcher that was designed and made by Marvin Brisk. Walt used the belly grinder to broadcast Sudan grass seed out over the field. A little harrowing with my team and a draft horse single on Walt’s Pioneer spring tooth harrows with crumbler attachments and the seed was harrowed in and the field was nicely smoothed. We put the irrigation on and got a nice stand of Sudan grass poking up.
During this time Walt and I used a few free minutes here and there to work on Walt’s 4-tongued horsepower. When Walt got the horse-power it was just a pile of metal in the ground with all the wood rotted out. He had already made a wood frame for the horsepower to fit on but had run into some problems with figuring out how it went back together. Besides the wood, all of the hardware on the tongues and the equalizer cables and eveners were all missing.
Walt’s neighbor, George, who was a professional welder for years, provided a lot of help and advice that was indispensable. We figured out a solution to one problem, only to cause another problem, but in the end we got it all working. Marvin Brisk loaned us his 4-tongued equalizer cable system and advised us on how to get everything to work. It really turned into a community project!
Once we had made the tongues and figured out how to attach the cable equalizer, it was time to work on the PTO/tumble rods. Walt has a single-tongued horsepower from which we borrowed the PTO shafts but we had to put shaft adapters on the ends to fit onto the horsepower PTO shaft and the speed jack PTO shaft ends.
The horsepower ran Walt’s small 1914 Sterling thresher which has a 21 inch cylinder. I bought a Hebner & Sons Little Giant thresher from Walt which is very similar in looks and size but has a 27 inch cylinder. Both threshers do not automatically cut the twine around the grain bundle; it must be manually cut by an operator.
When everything was set up we walked Walt’s two most experienced horses around the horsepower and individually hitched them to it with the speed jack out of gear so the horses could get used to the sound and feeling of the operation. Then we put them both on the horsepower. The speed jack is made with a screw that moves the belt pulley on the side of the speed jack. By turning the screw you loosen the tension on the belts until they freely slip which in effect takes the speed jack/ thresher out of gear. The speed jack has a clutch system that allows the horses to stop without the tongues running into them as the machine continues to run due to the built-up inertia within the belts, pulleys, etc. before the machine gradually slows down to a stop.
When we first put the horses on the horsepower and started to turn the screw to put the thresher in gear the horses could not go even if someone turned the drive belt on the thresher by hand. It turned out that the speed jack had a large pulley driving a small pulley in a ratio that tried to turn the thresher too fast for our set up and needs. The large pulley was switched out for a smaller pulley so that the ratio was close to 1:1 with only a slight speed increase (there was still a large ratio from the speed jack pulley to the thresher pulley which allowed for plenty of speed).
On the side of the thresher below the feeder there is a pulley with instructions to be run at 240 rpm. With the new speed jack ratio, the thresher ran at just below that and just above it depending on which horses we put on the horsepower. Two draft horses were able to comfortably run the thresher if the speed jack screw was tightened slowly so they wouldn’t get bogged down. One draft horse could do it but it was quite a load especially to start. We put four on and that worked the best particularly for longer periods of time. The cable equalizer could be hooked back on itself on the unused tongues in such a way that the equalizing effect would still work when all of the tongues weren’t being used. We threshed a trailer load of wheat.
Don Yerian who ran the B Bar Ranch Suffolk breeding and training program came to work with Walt at the end of my stay at the farm. At that time I had been having some trouble with my least experienced horse, Oriana. She was kicking at her outside trace and sometimes doing a little buck. Last summer I first noticed her doing it when I was discing with all three abreast and towards the end the turns got tighter and so the traces pulled harder on her outside leg which is what I believe caused her to start with that behavior. She did it a little up until partly through this summer when she started doing it a lot. There were a couple times when I didn’t know what to do and it seemed like it was getting out of hand so I quit working with her out in the field and drove her a little around the barn to try to end on a positive note.
I had been working her single and then with Hidalga on a tire so that I could gradually put more weight on her and do more sharp turns (such as 180 degree turns on the gravel farm road). Most of the time Don worked with Walt with some horses that were in training but afterwards Don worked with my horses and me for a little while on two different days. The first day I drove Oriana and Hidalga pulling a tire. Don suggested that I have them walk out more (they were in a familiar gravel area where I had been working them a lot) and that I get after Oriana when she kicked at her traces or bucked by slapping her on the rump with my line or a que stick. Also if either horse bit or rubbed on the other I got after them.
Oriana acted pretty good except for a little kick in a tighter turn when we went to a slightly less familiar area. The next day when Don worked with me, I hooked Oriana and Hidalga up to the forecart and drove them in a pen that they hadn’t been in before but was adjacent to the barnyard area. Due to the new area they wanted to walk faster which Don thought was a good pace that I should have them walk at more regularly. The pen had an open smooth area, objects that you could go around, and a rougher/bumpier hilly area in the back which turned out to be an exceptional training tool. That little bit of time watching Don work with Walt and my horses and getting a little bit of direct help with the problems that I was having with my horses allowed me to progress rapidly with Oriana. That is not to say I didn’t still have trouble with her though.
The day after Don left I worked Oriana and Hidalga on the forecart in the training pen with the smooth and rough areas. I worked them a little longer than when Don was there and Oriana started to get fussy. Before Don had come Walt and I went through her harness to make sure that it wasn’t hurting her and we checked in her mouth and where the harness moved on her to make sure that it wasn’t causing the problem. From her previous behavior I felt that it had turned into an attitude problem even if it wasn’t initially one.
Reasons for this line of thinking stemmed from her acting worse when we went away from the barn and acting better when we went around the familiar barnyard circle. She also acted worse if the mosquitoes were out or it was getting dark or if we were going to an unfamiliar place. This helped me decide to keep working her and Hidagla on the forecart that day. Whenever she kicked or bucked, I said a firm “quit” and used my que stick on her rump. When she bucked or kicked, I used it harder than if she rubbed or pawed but every time I used it in such a way that she knew I was serious and not fooling around but not super hard so that it made her more nervous. I kept working with her and she kept getting more fussy and nervous, although she hesitated to buck or kick.
After what felt like forever there was a climax when she acted the worst and then she started to get better. She didn’t really kick or buck anymore, but she was nervous and fussy. I kept working them (at a walk) and did some turning as I guided them along the fence line perimeter. During the whole time Oriana stayed fairly soft on the bit (at times slightly harder than normal) and still turned easily when I asked them to. After quite a while she gradually calmed down until she was about normally relaxed at which point I drove them to the hitch rail and quit. Since then I have had amazing progress with her including mowing Sudan grass covercrops and using her and Hidalga pulling a spring wagon in a historical play (it was Oriana’a first time). The only trouble I have had with her since was relatively minor and caused directly by my errors trying to figure out how to implement these new ideas and experiences into our everyday practice and habits. However I certainly still have much more to learn with her.
I decided to start mowing with Oriana after I got back from mowing a Sudan grass covercrop patch with Rubi and Hidalga. Oriana was tied up at the hitch rail so when I got back I drove Rubi and Hidalga around Oriana with the mower in gear and the bar on the outside so she could hear the noise and see that the other horses weren’t scared. Oriana was completely unphased by the noise and since she had been doing so well I decided to continue with her. The next day Walt walked Oriana around while I drove Rubi and Hidalga on the mower with the bar up, the bar down, and finally with it in gear. Even walking around the mower, Oriana was not at all scared of it, just interested. Since she had been doing so well after Don’s visit (it was several days after and I had done a lot of work with Oriana and Hidagla on the forecart at which she did great) I harnessed her up with Hidalga and drove them around the flat part of the training pen. I drove them with the bar up so she could again hear the wheels click and then I stopped them and put the arm down. I put it in gear and asked them to take one step and stop. Then two steps and stop. Then five steps and so forth. She didn’t even seem to think about the mower at all so I drove them around in a large circle for a while with occasional stops so that she could really get settled into the experience of the mower in a safe environment. After a day or so of doing that I drove them out to mow the second Sudan grass covercrop. She didn’t mind the mower at all.
During the fall, winter, and spring, while I am not farming I study Mechanical Engineering at Portland State University. 2014-2015 is my senior year. My goal is to learn what I can through school and then by working at a job at a local manufacturing company so that I can help bring new ideas to the horse-drawn design and manufacturing world. My goal is also to earn money to buy a farm.