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Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

STEP AHEAD: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

by Paul Hunter of Seattle, WA
photos by Paul Hunter & Jerry Hunter

“There is no barn without flies.” – Laura Hunter

I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along. There was a new posse of young mounted riders directing traffic and parking cars. Among novelties was a special program of demonstrations aimed at market gardening and small-scale farming, with equipment designed for single horses and small teams. There were systems to prepare soil, lay dripline and black plastic weed and moisture barrier all in one pass. For applications large and small there seems to be considerable emphasis on reducing the number of passes down the field, to help the farmer make more effective use of his and his draft animals’ time and energy.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

There was a strong set of demonstrations focused on logging and wood products, demonstrating tree pruning high in several old trees adjoining the fields, with chainsaw work, and portable wood mills. There was even an automated firewood processor that spat out an endless heap cut and split to size, that it did everything but stack, and a noisy machine from Montana that drilled holes and pounded fence posts in the ground on demand.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Notable among exhibits new this year was a demonstration of dogs to herd cattle, which alongside traditional sheep herding drew a large and appreciative crowd. Part mind-reading and part skillful maneuvering, the dogs were clearly appreciated and valued at their tasks.

There is a trend in miniature horses everywhere in evidence, as small hitches were used to pull both grownups and children all over the fair grounds in a variety of carts and wagons, along with the traditional larger and more comfortable people-movers.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Indoors a huge 3.4 acre facility sheltered upwards of a hundred booths, that offered an impressive range of the latest energy-saving and planet-saving technologies, as well as round-pen demonstrations and talks that drew large audiences. Exhibitors were not shy about making use of solar and wind power, and showed how many Amish farmers and manufacturers are now employing computers to manage their marketing, accounting and other needs.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Yet outdoors in the field the big horses are still the stars of the show, just as strong and well-mannered in large hitches as I recalled from eight years ago. There was more mechanization, more choices and refinements of sturdy ideas, like White Horse Manufacturing and Pioneer’s new plowing and cultivating systems, and Miller’s Machinery cultimulchers. The biggest no-till drill in 2008 had been pulled by six horses, and cost around $23,000. This year the biggest no-till drill was pulled by eight horses, and cost $32,000. The homemade ice cream was every bit as delicious as ever, churned by little “hit-or-miss” John Deere irrigation pump engines that had been lovingly restored.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

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Spotlight On: Livestock

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

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The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

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In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made.

Ask A Teamster The Bit

Ask A Teamster: The Bit

I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?

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.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

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.

Types and Breeds of Poultry

From Dusty Shelves: A 1924 article on chicken breeds.

The Milk and Human Kindness Part 1

The Milk and Human Kindness

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I know what it’s like to be trying to find one’s way learning skills without a much needed teacher or experienced advisor. I made a lot of cheese for the pigs and chickens in the beginning and shed many a tear. I want you to know that the skills you will need are within your reach, and that I will spell it all out for you as best I can. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.

Work Bridle Styles

Work Bridle Styles

Here are fourteen work bridle styles taken from a 1920’s era harness catalog. Regional variants came with different names and configurations, so much so that we have elected to identify these images by letter instead of name so you may reference these pictures directly when ordering harness or talking about repairs or fit concerns with trainers or harness makers. In one region some were know as pigeon wing and others referred to them as batwing or mule bridles.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

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The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.

Ask A Teamster Halters Off

Ask A Teamster: Halters Off!

When my friend and mentor, the late Addie Funk, first started helping me with my horses, he suggested that we get rid of my halter ropes with snaps and braid lead ropes on to all the halters permanently. Actually as I think about it, it was more than a suggestion. Knowing him, he probably just braided the new ropes on, confident that anyone with any sense would be pleased with the improvement. In any case, when the task was completed I clearly remember him saying to me, “Now nobody will turn a horse loose around here with a halter on.”

Interpreting Your Horse's Body Language

Interpreting Your Horse’s Body Language

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The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.

Cattle Handling Part 2 Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

Cattle Handling Part 2: Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

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Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.

Work Horse Handbook

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Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

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In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

My First Team of Workhorses

My First Team of Workhorses

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In A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses, a greenhorn (myself) tried a single work horse named Lady for farm and woods work. It was probably natural that, having acquired some experience with one horse, I should want to see what it was like to use two. Perhaps it is more exciting to see a good team pull together, and there is the added challenge to the teamster of making certain that the horses pull smoothly rather than seesaw.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

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Journal Guide