We have tried a workhorse, and for our needs he has proven quite satisfactory as well as satisfying to use. Thus we feel it is possible for someone with little or no experience to learn to care for and use a horse or a team for farm and woods work, although, obviously, this is not a process to be undertaken lightly. One of the basic aims of the farm operation for us is self-sufficiency, and we thought that the horse would be more efficient than a tractor in achieving this aim.
The tale started in 1980. For some time, I had had two good horses, but needed a third to make a three horse hitch. I never seemed to have any luck finding that third one without health or behavior problems. So it was that I decided to raise and train some young horses from the ground up. Opportunity presented itself when I found Bonnie, a 7-month Belgian weanling, and learned that her mother was carrying another foal. We brought Bonnie home in January 1980, and since I needed to borrow the mother to work, she came in mid-June 1980 with Mayday, Bonnie’s half sister, born, as the name suggests, on May 1. With these young ones, I could try my hand at training from an early age, and had some assurance that as half sisters they would match up pretty well.
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.
Plowing demands more skill and precision from the teamster and the horses than almost any other farm-related task performed with a team. This is true whether you use a walking plow or a wheel-mounted sulky plow. This discussion will be limited to the sulky plow, both because the wheel-mounted sulky is easier to use and my experience is limited to this type, except for one disastrous attempt with a single horse walking plow described in “A Greenhorn Tries Draft Horses.”
Success in getting a satisfactory planting of a field crop will depend on two factors: achievement of a loose, smooth seedbed, and the care with which you set up and gauge the planting machinery. I will discuss both of these factors in this article. The only exception to this rule is if you are a “no till” farmer and control weeds completely with herbicides. This point may be academic however, because I don’t know of any horse farmers who are “no till” farmers!