(Other than trying to fit two giant animals and myself into one selfie frame.) As it turns out, actually enjoying time in their presence makes up maybe 5% of the total time I spend on these boofheads.
We’re all pretty familiar at this point with horseback riding’s “side benefits” — yes, we know how to sit on a living animal (and maybe even not fall off some of the time), but we’ve also learned other important life skills such as responsibility, empathy, the importance of hard work and determination, goal-setting, confidence, leadership, problem solving … the list could go on, but I think you understand where I’m heading with this.
The team of Belgian drafts that I adopted three weeks ago are certainly helping to reinforce all of these important life skills (even though I may have tried to convince myself that they weren’t horses at all but were actually dragons) as well as the unique set of horsemanship skills involved with these massive creatures (like how to safely clean a hoof the size of my face). Not only can I saddle a horse, but I can harness one too, and cross-harness him to his teammate and then hitch the team to a variety of vehicles.
But there are a few skills I’m perfecting that I confess I did not see coming. Here are a few other things I’ve suddenly found myself getting good at since getting draft horses.
1. Using tools like a semi-competent adult
Man, my liberal arts degree definitely failed to adequately prepare me for the mysteries that lie within the toolshed, but I’m making up for many years of lost time in a hurry thanks to the seemingly never-ending list of small adjustments and repairs that need to be made to the harness and small fleet of vehicles and equipment we’ve managed to accumulate. The family farm was already pretty well outfitted for draft-type Haflingers, which means we have plenty of actual vehicles but the hitch parts were all designed for much smaller animals than the nearly-18 hand Belgians I’m driving.
I won’t claim that I’ve been doing all of the necessary adjustments — public shout-out to my father-in-law and husband for doing a lot of the power tool stuff for installing my new wagon tongues and hardware. At the same time, I’m stupid-proud of myself for being able to remove some old hardware from our existing equipment and transfer it over to the new stuff, using things like wrenches and ratchets while totally unsupervised by a responsible adult. I figured out how to use a shop vise without crushing any of my digits. Tools are fun!
2. Navigating the hardware store
I distinctly remember as a child that accompanying my father to the hardware store was one of the worst experiences of my young, young life. The aisles were endless, the amount of equipment and supplies we needed to pick up were infinite (we did a lot of home renovation). Retrospectively, I kind of wish I had paid more attention all those years ago.
I’ve been to Tractor Supply four times, my local hardware store, Home Depot and an auto parts shop — seven trips in three weeks. I can now beeline from the front door at least in TSC to the aisle I need, picking through the collection of nuts and bolts, pins and clips and various types of chain. (Seriously, who knew there were so many kinds?) My new favorite activity is allowing a bright apron-wearing man to amble over, ask me what I’m looking for, and then attempt to find it for me, because apparently certain things like a 3/8″ hitch pin with 7″ of usable length are shockingly hard to come by.
3. Getting to know the local Amish community.
Say what you like about the Amish, but they definitely know their way around work horses, harness and equipment. In our particular geographical location, the Amish community is the place to go to have harness repaired or built, buy additional wagon parts and pick the brains of people who work with draft horses all day every day. I’ve currently got one set of harness at the maker’s to have a matching set built, and I’ve already stopped in at the carriage shop twice to buy two draft-length wagon tongues and a set of eveners.
(I understand that some people feel the Amish overuse and abuse their animals, but our Amish community is a microcosm for the horse world — there are good and bad horse owners in any group, and we try to be discerning in who we choose to work with.)
4. Using and maintaining farm and driving equipment
For anyone who runs their own farm entirely, this is nothing new — but in my horse life, I’ve always worked large operations with designated staff who operated and maintained the heavy equipment as well as ran the farming end of things (mowing and baling hay, for example). Now that I’m trying to turn my draft horses into two productive members of farm society and performing basic tasks like spreading manure or dragging the cow pasture, I’m responsible for learning how to use and maintain this equipment myself.
There’s plenty they don’t tell you you’ll learn when you start farming with draft horses. While I feel like my life has changed already in just three weeks, I’m also smart enough to realize that this is only the beginning. I’m interested to see what I might learn in a year, three years, or a lifetime of working with these wonderful animals.
Go draft horses! Go driving!