by Lisa A. Winslow of Harrison, ME
It was the end of an era. Our twenty-eight-year-old Belgian draft horse Miss Mac (Missy) died. Missy was a red mare with a large white blaze and a whitish/reddish mane and tail. She was hard in the mouth and wanted to be the first to feel the weight in her traces. She was a real work horse and the matriarch of High View Farm.
Missy is where farming with drafts began for us. Jeepers, the farm didn’t even have a name back then. She and I saw it all: the old barn, the new barn, the One Cow Dairy, pigs, chickens, sheep, and the start of the Draft Horse Club. Missy was as loyal to my dad, a man with a dream, as is his daughter standing by his side.
She, along with her mate, Charlie, were the first drafts on our farm. The only horses that came before them had been riding horses for me and my grandfather, and before that maybe a work horse or two for logging or field work. Missy and Charlie were my Dad’s first team. They were a get of sire (the same father) by a set of half sisters. Charlie was a strawberry roan, flecks of red hair dappled his white body and mane. He died at an early age due to an accident at the fairgrounds.
This young grade team came to our farm from Vermont. I recall visiting them several times when they were just weanlings. They taught my father as he taught them. We had help from my grandfather Harry (a horse logger in his own right). We handled them a lot, halter broke them, eventually draped harnesses over their backs, and then moved on to the single drag. After that, we hitched them to various farm implements: the manure spreader, the plow and the spike tooth harrow.
After Missy and Charlie arrived we got the draft horse bug. We bought Flirt, Beth, Nell and Bill, and later, Bridget and Branson (our herd sire). Once we had Branson with those mares, a plethora of babies arrived, including one of my favorites, a stud colt named Red. I enjoyed foaling time, even though the horses that we acquired after Missy and Charlie were for show. I didn’t enjoy showing. I would rather be home on the farm, sitting on the back of a single draft, cultivating the garden with Dad. Oh, some of these horses did their share of farm work, but only a few were work horses.
Red was one of those few. We kept him hoping we would be able to sell him as a prospective stud for breeding show horses. I remember leading him up from his pasture by the light of the full moon, him acting all cocky and brazen. As he matured we realized he wasn’t really “show material.” He was stocky and big boned, not like the tall and leggy show horses. Dad sold him off to a man with a family who rode him, worked him, and loved him.
After I had grown and left home to figure out who and what I wanted to be, more horses joined the farm. There were Bonnie and Madison, along with Kenny and Kory, two different studs that I always confused. Maybe there was only one. I don’t remember. I was out of the loop. Dad showed occasionally at this time, but most of the time he was doing what he loved, working a team on his farm.
For twenty-eight years Missy trained and bossed, led and taught, bringing team building into the lives of many, humans and horses. She retired several years back and slowly began to be the one being bossed around by the other horses. In the beginning it was almost fun to see her being pushed around. She hadn’t been easy on those young horses. But, as she got older, and the new pecking order decreed that she be the one outside the shed, I felt sorry for her. Maybe not quite pity, perhaps more like empathy.
Red, along with Madison and her babies: Dicky, Star and Dixie, are the only horses left. The later three are being trained by Madison and will be the upcoming team. Right now Red and Madison do all the work: logging, sleigh rides, spreading manure, plowing and harrowing. For like me, Red has come back to the farm.
Maybe it’s not the end of an era. Perhaps it’s just a beginning. What Missy left me with is a farm full of rich memories that can never be taken away. She left me with a knowledge and a desire for farming.
I am ready, to work by Dad’s side again. But do I want to be the one holding the reins, figuratively and literally? I’ve come to realize that he’s not quite ready to hand them over. What’s a farmer’s daughter to do? I’m not that little girl on the back of a draft anymore. I think it’s time for me to let go. It’s time to stop struggling for the reins and see where my dreams may lead me. I have faith that they will be right at my fingertips.
Missy will be my continual reminder to hold my memories dear, but not to let them hold me back! I can feel her looking down on me from her field of clover in the sky and saying, “Toss your mane, Lisa, fight that bit, and run, Lisa, run. Your time has come!”