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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

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

New York Horsefarmer: Ed Button and his Belgians

by Kathleen E. Suits Smith

In New York State one does not explore the world of draft horses long before the name of Ed Button, RD 1, Cherry Valley, is invariably and most respectfully mentioned. Ed’s name can be heard in the conversations of nearly everyone concerned with heavy horses from the most experienced teamsters to the most novice horse hobbyists. In the span of his 63 years, Ed has done virtually everything for, and with draft horses and has done it all well. His career with Belgians includes a vast catalog of activities: showing, pulling, training, farming, breeding, and driving, which Ed says, “I’ve been doing since I was old enough to hold the lines.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

B. B. Conelrad 2nd’s Sodbuster, 33418, stands stately and impressively as naturally befits a herd sire.

One of the fondest memories from Ed’s childhood is of the driving that he used to do with his mother when he was quite young. “We had a farm horse; Prince, we called him. We used him as a road horse and a work horse. And every Saturday I can remember my mother’d let me drive when we’d take Prince and go to my grandparents’ and stay overnight. Prince wasn’t much of a horse on the way, but Sunday on the way back, he was quite a horse to hold. ‘Course my mother wasn’t far away, but I was little and that’s always just stuck in my head.” Ed goes on to describe his first real work with horses: “When I got to be five or six years old I could hitch ’em and do stuff by myself. Later, when I got older I used to drive my grandfather’s horses, and the horses on our farm.”

As an adult Ed, and his wife Helen, farmed next to his father for 30 years, where they raised a family of five daughters, all of whom were taught to handle horses. The Buttons had tractors on their farm, but they were never without horses. “I couldn’t have forgotten them when tractors came. There was too much love in my heart for horses and I couldn’t have been without a team”, confesses Ed. So, he continued to raise, train and work Belgians and Percherons. He recalls, “In the ’40’s and ’50’s anybody who kept horses, people thought was a little crazy, but I kept my horses. For awhile it was pretty hard to sell the foals; loggers were about the only ones to buy them. Up until the ’50’s and even into the ’60’s all of our work was done with horses. There were only a few years when we were without doing everything with the horses. But in the ’60’s we had trouble finding experienced teamsters around that we could trust with the horses. Before that we could always find some drivers who could handle the teams.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

King and Barney are presently Ed’s favorite team. A matched pair of full brothers, aged 4 and 5, these geldings have done a lot of work for their owner. At the time of the interview the work to be done was trimming pastures and the team faithfully cooperated.

About eleven years ago Ed and Helen moved to their present farm which is a bit smaller and allows them to turn their full attention to raising registered Belgians, and to return to horse-farming. Now Ed mows, rakes, plows, discs, drags, plants, and on special days, parades with his horses. He also finds time to participate in the various events sponsored by the NYS Draft Horse Club, and the Eastern Regional Draft Horse Club, and to occasionally sponsor something himself.

At their present farm Ed has hosted seminars for people who wish to come and learn about hitching and working horses. These seminars were held in 1978 and 1979, and were sponsored by the NYS Draft Club. Lectures and workshops were held on topics like worming, trimming feet, shoeing and hitching.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Another shot of Ed trimming pastures with King and Barney.

Ed also gets together with other teamsters to help fill silos, cut oats, or whatever seems to need doing at the time. One of the most recent events that Ed organized himself was the cutting of fifteen acres of oats with a reaper and binder. The oats were owned by Harold Hayes of Cherry Valley, who gratefully accepted Ed’s offer to do the work. For the cutting Ed used a four-horse hitch comprised of young, inexperienced horses. Ed’s own geldings, King and Barney, were at the wheel and Ray Putman of Rural Grove, NY, supplied the lead team, Dick and Dan. Though the event was not really publicized, word spread quickly among horse enthusiasts and spectators arrived in plenty of time to watch the hitching and cutting. Ed’s propensity for understatement and his easy-going manner reigned over the cutting. “We’re gonna’ have to make some adjustments as we go along. We’re gonna start out with four lines just ’til we get goin’. We’ve got four young horses that’s never experienced this.” Then after a long pause Ed continued, “and we’re liable to get goin’ like hell.”

When all of the hitching and adjusting was completed Ray Putman went by his lead team to get them started right, and Ed jokingly told the spectators, “Everybody look the other way now.” Then Ed spoke to the horses and they were off safely cutting oats.

Ed’s calm, easy-going disposition and his low-key attitude show on his farm as well as when he’s working horses in public. There are no fancy trimmings at the Button farm, only top quality harness, equipment, and horses. In fact, having good equipment and harness, and having it all adjusted properly is a special point with Ed. He’s not the sort of person to let much upset him, but ill-fitting harness does get Ed’s goat. “I do get bothered by poor harness”, admits Ed. “We had a pair of runaways this year at the Cobleskill Fair just because of poor harness. And there was another team there with their noses almost touching. If they’d just stopped and switched things around.”

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Buster, as he’s known to the Buttons, forgets for a few minutes about impressing anyone and prefers to play at the end of the lunge-line. Ed seemed to enjoy the game as much as Buster as he shouted, “Yippee” and stepped lively to keep up with the stallion. As per his training, Buster knew when the game was over and walked quietly back to the barn.

Ed maintains the same high standard about the people who work with his horses as he does about the harness that he uses. For the past several summers he has had two top-notch assistants: his own granddaughters, Cheryl and Cynthia McGraw, aged respectively seventeen and fourteen, who are the children of the Buttons’ oldest daughter. During the school year the girls live with their parents in New Jersey, but they are with their grandparents and the Belgians whenever they have the chance. Ed compliments the girls on the quality of their horse-handling with the love of an adoring grandparent, but also with the respect of an experienced horseman. Ed explains, “I like people to be quiet around my horses, and firm with them. They shouldn’t be repeatin’. Say it once and be firm.” Cheryl and Cindy seem to exemplify their grandfather’s qualifications for a horse handler, but the girls also include kindness, gentleness and love in their work with the Belgians. Their grandfather continues, “This summer when they got here, that Bunny foal was a little wild, but they tamed her down, got her leadin’ and ready to show. And they got first place foal with Bunny at the Cobleskill Fair. They’re my stablehands, my assistants, and my trainers. All I do is supply the horses.” Ed fails to mention, however, just who it was who taught the girls all they know about horses. It seems safe to assume that it was their grandfather.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

While trimming the pastures Ed pauses for a few minutes for some pictures.

Helen, Ed’s wife, stays out of the limelight of shows, parades, pictures, and gatherings, but she helps with the feeding of the horses and hates to sell a single one. Says Ed, “She gets married to them the same as I do and she’s always tellin’ me I can’t sell any. But I can’t keep them all because we need the income.”

Helen seems to have had some bad luck around the horses because she’s had various injuries over the years. Nothing has been really serious, but was it enough to make her wish that she’d married a man who liked to perhaps collect stamps, or sell insurance? “No, because I like the horses,” Helen unequivocally states, though she admits to being a bit careful working around them.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

King and Barney were too busy fighting the flies to be concerned about posing.

Helen’s primary interest is the cows. She keeps two Jerseys to supply them with milk and she adamantly comments, “When we moved here we weren’t going to have any cows, but I straightened that out in a hurry because I hate pasteurized milk”. Helen thus spends her time in a supportive role regarding the Belgians, but a very active role regarding the Jerseys, the garden, and their home. Though Helen maintains a low profile with the horses, her presence is felt and she knows the Belgians well.

Ed and Helen Button have ribbons, trophies and honors far too numerous to mention. They range from many grand champions and first place ribbons, to the honor of having consigned top money horses at draft sales. None of the ribbons, or the trophies, or the honors can be found very easily at the Button farm, though; unless, of course, you ask. Ed has many fine quality horses that are matched with equally fine harness and equipment; but the high quality will not be mentioned, unless, of course, you ask. Ed Button has a great deal of knowledge of every aspect of draft horsemanship, and is a skilled trainer and teamster. But, one need not ask to be shown these things; one needs only to watch Ed Button and his Belgians.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button awaits the start of the Fourth of July parade in Springfield Center, NY. This year Ed joined his young geldings, King and Barney, with a team owned by Jack Mulligan of Richfield Springs, NY to make a prize-winning four-horse hitch.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

As they left the barn, Ed stopped the team for a picture, but King and Barney weren’t interested in posing. They were listening to their driver.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Somehow the wagon and the mower weren’t parked in just the best places; so it made for a close situation as the team turned around. But, as Ed said, “It’s going to be a tight squeeze, Barney. Get around.” And King and Barney did as they were told.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed and his newly made four-horse hitch cut oats before a group of ambitious friends who acted as field hands.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button and the four-horse hitch cut oats for Harold Hayes near Cherry Valley, NY.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

As the breezes blew and the clouds covered the sun making the cutting of oats impossible, Cheryl and Cynthia brought King and Barney back to the truck to be unharnessed.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cynthia, in the foreground, aided by Cheryl, unharnessed the team after cutting oats.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cheryl and Cynthia harness old Veda, who Ed says, “…is spending her retirement years entertaining the grandchildren.” At the age of 22, Veda has had a long and varied career freely doing whatever task was at hand, including training colts.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Cheryl and Cynthia leave for a drive with Veda.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed’s granddaughters, Cheryl and Cynthia, pose with Timberland’s Bonnie, 40574, and with her filly, Bunny. Thanks to the girls, Bunny has become a friendly gentle, young lady herself.

New York Horsefarmer Ed Button and his Belgians

Ed Button returns to the barn with King and Barney.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

A Quiet Stand

A Quiet Stand

Burnout is common to idealists who invest deeply in their dreams. It is easy to overreach, and promise more than you have to give. Then too there is that tempered hidden anchor called hope, the mountain climber’s friend driven into cracks to belay and secure him as he goes, which still may fail first or last. So following the story that underlies these essays it is not hard to see how, as Kingsnorth says, finding himself increasingly mired in endless meetings with corporate spokesmen paid to resist him, enough futile effort might lead to despair.

An Introduction To Grasslands Farming

From Dusty Shelves: A World War II era article on grassland farming.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

Stories of Ranch Life

Stories of Ranch Life

Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.”

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

From humor-filled stories of a life of farming to incisive examinations of food safety, from magical moments of the re-enchantment of agriculture to the benches we would use for the sharpening of our tools, Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows offers a full meal of thought and reflection.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

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, The 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.

Haltering Foals - Training Workhorses Training Teamsters

Haltering Foals

Lynn Miller’s highly regarded book, “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters,” is back in print! And that’s not even the most exciting news: The Second Edition is in FULL COLOR! Today’s article, “Haltering Foals,” is an excerpt from Chapter 8, “Imprinting and Training New Born Foals.”

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

SFJ Spring 2016 Preview: Edward O. Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, offers a plan for the problem of species extinction: the dominant species, man, must hold itself back, must relinquish half the earth’s surface to those endangered. It is a challenging and on the face of it improbable thought, expressed in a terse style. But his phrases are packed because the hour is late.

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

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