Kristen Kovatch eplores the art of horse-drawn logging.
There are a few jobs that even today still require a good horse and a skilled horseman.
The concept of using draft horses on the farm in today’s highly-mechanized world is usually viewed as dated, even whimsical–it’s hard for the industrial farm to find the time to use horse-drawn machinery when the farmer is racing the clock and the weather to get as much per acre as possible. Most of the farmers I know who are still using drafts full-time for manure spreading, plowing and planting are what we’d call the “gentleman farmer”–and it’s the day job that’s allowing them to keep their drafts in the first place. But step into the woods, and you’ll find that horse-drawn logging is still a popular and even necessary process for forestry, especially in hilly and densely-forested areas.
This video does an amazing job illustrating why the draft horse is a superior tool for logging in dense hilly woods–trying to haul motorized equipment into a forest such as this would not only require trucks and trailers, but graded roadways and the destruction of forest just for having the room to maneuver. In using draft horses, these loggers are minimizing the impact on the forest itself, able to cull only the trees they need rather than ones that would be in the way of a truck or skidder.
Logging with horses requires an intense trust relationship between horse and driver–look at how much distance separates the driver from his horse in this video. These drivers do much more with their voices than the lines, communicating to the horse where to go or stop and when to turn. They can even drive the horse right onto the log pile itself to make sure that his load gets exactly where it needs to be.
Horse-drawn logging requires foresight and reflexes on the part of the human driver–if you’re not paying attention to where the log is going, imagine how easy it is to get your feet swept out from under you, or worse, set your horse up for disaster. The horses must be strong with lots of endurance for hauling logs up and down mountains, as well as obedience and patience for getting the load exactly where it needs to go.
Take a look at local operations near you–some loggers operate both a mechanized skidder as well as a team of horses depending on the job. Horse-drawn logging is a fascinating process that’s remained relatively unchanged over the years like a piece of living history.