The Work Horse Handbook
The latest revised edition of the Work Horse Handbook is here! Since it was first published in 1980, this 386 page authoritative text, with it’s nearly 1,000 illustrations, has assisted beginner and experienced teamsters worldwide. This book is the ultimate owner/operator manual for working draft horses and mules in fields, forests, and fancy carriage operations. Here is a peek into its pages.
The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious. This is not to suggest that the romantic notion is frivolous or in any way detrimental as part of the entire commitment. Quite the contrary; the prevailing motivation behind a majority of good practicing horse farmers today seems to be just that notion. They are attracted to the romance of the system. Whatever the nature of the attraction is must be tempered by consideration of all the practical questions related to “Why use horses?” Without a careful and clear view of the practical aspects, a person new to the business could very well find himself of herself in either a dangerous, humiliating, confusing, or discouraging situation. (It’s likely to be a combination of all four.) Make the choice carefully.
On Shoulders and the Angle of Draft:
Natural Shoulder Angle:
The natural angle of the shoulder and pastern should be the same. When these corresponding angles form ninety degree measures, as illustrated, the ‘push-to-pull action in harness is most efficient and effective. Perhaps even more important is the apparent fact that, all other physiological aspects being equal, these angles translate to greatest comfort for the working horse. The only step we may take to affect these actions, positively or negatively, would be to drastically alter the pastern angle through the angle of the hoof. (see Anatomy chapter)
Collar on the Shoulder:
Illustrating how the padded-collar relates to the skeletal structure of the horse. The point of draft, that being exactly where the tug to hame connection rests on the line of the shoulder, is critical to the working comfort of the horse. If it is too low, a sore shoulder results. If it is too high, it is difficult for the horse to pull. Collars are designed to seat and pad the tug-to-hame connection at their widest part (or the ‘draft’ of the collar). The ‘tug-to-hame’ connection is more important than the actual position of the draft collar.
The single most important input with cost is working experience. In other words, BEFORE you can make working horses a comfortable reliable operating scheme for your farm, you must acquire the necessary skill level. It comes from watching, learning, experience, and curiosity. And acquiring the skill of a full-fledged farm teamster will cost- time, sweat, adversity, anxiety, and perhaps money. Remember, if you owned a team of young draft mares magically-tomorrow-you would not be able to realize their full value to you without first having the skill to use them properly. This is the single biggest reason we don’t have a flood of new horse farmers all across the countryside. It’s not because it’s impractical. It’s because it takes commitment and work to develop skill and craftsmanship. But once you have, it is yours for life.
This fantastic narrative guide to the art and science of working draft horses and mules was written by Small Farmer’s Journal editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.