The Magical Moments in Time: Living with Draft Horses at a Young Age
by Natalie Anne Helser (age 16)
Hundreds of times a day, you look at something interesting. I’m not talking about something interesting like a pristine statue in a museum, or a unique vase at your Grandma’s house that she has never used and got in some foreign country when she traveled there during college. I’m talking about something rather mundane, but it stands out in some way. Perhaps a single beam of sunlight, slanting through a crack in a curtain, dust motes happily dancing in the pure light. You might pause to stare at the twirling motes and wonder, are they faeries? What are they, really? How much do they see, frolicking up there in the open?
Or perhaps you step on a leaf, decaying to a crisp in the autumn air, and instead of continuing on, time freezes and you realise that there are thousands of other leaves, each one of them leading their own lives, each one different. Each one with its own intricate system of veins and ridges, each one with its own vivid autumn hues – turmeric yellow for the aspen, a paler, creamier yellow for the poplar, a crisp, old book-page brown for the oak, and the deepest, richest scarlets reserved for the maples. It makes you wonder, makes you think, truly, what is there in this vast world that we don’t know? More than we know, definitely.
In every second, in every infinitesimal breath of a second, in every beat of life, a million things happen. If only we could stop and appreciate all of them – slow down, and really, really, listen to them.
I consider farms to be one of those interesting things I was talking about. Isn’t it just so lovely that a small, tilled plot of land can hold so much life? Food for humans, food for animals, bulk and produce, cover crops, an environment for domesticated and wild animals alike. If you were to pause time, think of all the things that would be happening! In the stalky field, a bleary-eyed fawn twitches tired ears. In the hawthorn hedge, a magpie pulls at a thorny twig, artfully constructing a masterpiece of a nest. In the barn, the scurrying of an evasive mouse catches the attention of the draft horses, slowly chewing their breakfast. The sprouts push determined heads through loamy earth, the ditch slowly creeps along, unheeded by imposing rocks, and time unpauses. The day continues.
I feel eternally grateful to live in such a place. Our farm isn’t without its miniature gorges of muddy rivers running in between rows, or its sagging fences and escaped animals. It’s not without the ducks and chickens always on the porch (pretty adorable until you realise the mess they left), or the random piles of junk with no use (but yet they’re still there?). But, personally, I think it just adds more life and character to the breathtaking place we live.
Just last summer, we bought two draft horses – Belgians, thick-set and deep russet coloured and fiery hearted creatures. I still remember going to see them for the first time – we were only considering buying one (Rylie), until the other one (Millie) started panicking in the barn when we took Rylie out for a test walk. (Yeah – spoiler alert – they’re very attached to each other.) Dad went and started leading Millie around, and when we were talking to their previous owners about buying them, Millie reached over and gave my Dad the biggest hug with her huge head, as if she knew exactly what we were talking about, and wanted a say in it. A week later, we were headed home with two draft horses.
When I was between the ages of 5 and 12, our family owned six drafts – Dalton, a Blue Roan Brabant, Ginger, a Strawberry Roan mare, their two fillies, Lucy and Arnica, and Rocky and Lee, two sweet drafts we rescued from Craigslist. I loved them all to death, but I was really too young to drive them by myself. Sure, I went on rides in the wagon or sat on the forecart seat, and I helped brush and lead them around, but the harnesses were really just a confusing tangle of ink-black leather, like dark brambles in a midnight thicket. I never even thought about driving and harnessing them up myself. Our herd dwindled as I got older, slowly whittling down to Lee and Dalton. We just weren’t using them enough, and they were becoming pasture horses – sweet, but they needed homes where people would use them more. So, by the time I was twelve, we sadly had sold all of our drafts.
Now this brings me back to when I was talking about those magical moments poised in the slowing of time. Not only have I always adored horses (yes, I was definitely that little girl whose biggest dream was to ride a wild black stallion bareback on a beach), but I have also grown up with horses. And not just any horse, but huge gentle giants. It’s a life experience that I treasure to this day, and I think it gives me so much insight into Rylie and Millie, the Belgians we have now after 4 years of not having drafts. I have so much experience when it comes to them, thanks to all the time I spent with our other dear drafts when I was younger. I can now drive Rylie and Millie – and harness them up! (Yeah, much simpler than 7-year-old me thought.)
We even have given our hand at riding them, which has been quite the adventure, to say the least. And even in certain unpleasant moments – getting bucked off or being on the back of a spooked Millie or frustration when they just cannot seem to grasp the concept that the round pen is for their own good and if they just listened the first time they wouldn’t have to go in boring circles – it’s still worth it. Because I just think of time slowing. I see their kind eyes – full of wisdom and life experience – and a little bit of snark. I see their feet – huge and thundering, loud and big enough to create their own storm. I see their coats and manes and tails – gleaming and swishing and relaxing. I hear the way their hearts beat and lungs expand and minds notice and realise. And I think to myself, even in frustrating moments, even when you just feel like giving up and bringing them back to the barn or pasture, remember to pause time. Remember to find all those mundane details. Remember to find what’s interesting in that moment and what makes it all worth it. Thanks to my life with drafts at a young age, and because of helping to train dear Rylie and Millie, I can now appreciate every tiny detail. I can remember to find what is interesting in that speck of time, in that beat of an infinitesimal moment.