Words for the Workhorse

Here on our New Hampshire vegetable farm, we've been farming with draft horses since the beginning. We've worked with several teams, in various combinations, and each team, and each horse, has its own charms and quirks. Mostly we say nice things to our charming, quirky horses. Sometimes we say other things. 

Take Ben, for example, one of our black Percherons, who is our biggest, youngest, goofiest horse, born here on the farm in 2002. He likes to drink from the end of the water hose, and he likes to flip the hose right out of the trough. “Oh, Benny!” we moan, “For crying out loud, how are you going to get water to drink if it's all running down the driveway?”

We might also say to Benny, on a fine spring morning,“Oh, you big, beautiful shiny horse, I bet you're ready to plow!” And he is. He is a fine, strong, steady horse, and we tell him so. He is also a fine, strong, steady horse with mighty big feet.

When it's time to cultivate the narrow pathways of the garden, we are more likely to say, “Gees, Benny, every time you wiggle your big fat foot, you step on a plant!” Benny is pretty unconcerned about our little lettuce or broccoli transplants; in fact, he has finally trained the people around here to choose a different horse to cultivate, a horse with nice little feet.

A horse with nice little feet comes walking right over in the barnyard. It is Molly, our lovebug, a sweet Belgian looking for someone to scratch her chin. She is a dear to work around in the stable, and we croon in her ears: “What a good horse, oh, what a nice good lovey-dovey horse.”

Molly is also a hard worker. She is quite the peppy stepper in harness, instantly ready for anything, quite often more than even the teamster is ready for. “Easy, Molly,” we say. “Walk. Easy. Walk. Easy,” in slighter louder and more convincing tones each repetition. Molly is also not fond of big branches catching on the machinery she's hauling, which puts even more spring into her step. “Holy smokes,” we might say, “What are you trying to do, Molly? Win the race? Or just lose the hayloader, haywagon, and haypeople?”

Molly likes to work best with her Belgian brother Moon, though we sometimes wonder why this is so. Moon has learned all the tricks of the draft horse trade, including lagging behind when there's a hard pull up a slope, and tucking ahead when there's a long downhill, which is the very time he's supposed to be helping hold the machinery from careening forward.

“Step up, Moon, step up!” we encourage. Moon flicks his ears at us, and sometimes his tail: oh these pesky humans, always yakking about something.

Moon is our most elegant horse, with his flowing blonde mane and tail, and his long neck. He also has the unusual and marvelous habit of stopping short when he is alarmed in harness, rather than galloping away. “Good boy,” we say, “Good good good wonderful marvelous fantastic horse,” we say, as we work out whatever noisy machinery disaster has befallen.

Betsy, our other black Percheron, is our retired mare, and was known in her younger years for her snorting, wiggling ways, which occasionally actively contributed to one of those machinery disasters. We said a few stern words to her in her time, such as, “Betsey! What the heck are you doing! Whoa means Whoa! Not lurch ahead and break the mowing machine on a big rock!”

Now Betsy has mellowed into the unflappable auntie. Mostly these days we say “Wow, Betsey!” instead of “Whoa, Betsey!”

Two by fours falling from a great height directly in front of her? No worries. Betsey keeps drinking from the trough. Sapling catches under the saddle as we take a little ride through the woods? No problem. She keeps trotting along as the sapling rips out from under the saddle. Other three horses racing around the paddock in horror at an approaching front-end loader? No big deal. Betsy chews hay, unperturbed, at the manger.

“Wow, Betsey,” we say. “You are some horse.” Betsy nods her head agreeably as she chews. She is some horse. And so are the rest of' 'em. We sure like to tell 'em so.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Aug 3-9, 2016