Archive for March, 2009


  It takes a lot of time, effort and patience to train two big, beautiful, spoiled hay-eating machines to be actual workhorses.  There is nothing in either of my mares’ life experiences that prepared them for life on a working farm, being around other horses, noises and distractions, or doing anything other than lounging together in a big pasture and having grain and hay brought to them in abundance without any exchange of effort for it.

The transformation is being accomplished slowly, sometimes in small steps, sometimes in leaps and bounds – but it is happening.  This picture of 8-year-old Justice in harness, dragging fresh-plowed garden soil with a smiling Mel on the lines and Jason grinning as he removes the lead for the horse to take her first working steps, shows the progress they’re making and how pleased they are with it.  It choked me up a little when I first saw it, seeing the joy on their faces as they turned to show me through the camera how far they’ve come with the project of making these fine mares into workhorses for Mel and Adam to use.

I can see that horse’s mind working, too, which is the part of all this that I am the most in awe of.  This big, young mare has never done anything like this in her life – suited up in harness, responding to signals on the reins and bit and commands from the two-legged alpha, doing what she’s asked to do – this is as alien to her as walking upright would be, yet at the same time, it isn’t strange at all, and you can see her becoming, right before our eyes, a workhorse.  Two months ago she was skittery and lacking manners and herd-bound to her daughter; now she is much less all that, much closer to the skilled, experienced workhorse she will be in the years to come.  And it is happening because she’s figuring it out, and has good coaches, people who know her potential and know what is required to get her there.

There’s still much to be done and a long way to go.  Jason wrote yesterday that he’d bought a new sulky plow and is planning to hitch the girls between the two geldings they are pastured next to and have grown accustomed to, so they can learn to work by their example, alongside horses that know to move when asked and stop when told and stay still in between.  That should be a mind-opening experience for both of them.


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A Little Snow














The Blizzard of ’09 missed south-central Kentucky, as near as we can tell from Alene’s reports and pictures.  They got a two-inch dusting at the farm, just enough to look like winter for awhile, then the sun came out and it was gone the next day.

I am not unhappy that this area doesn’t get regular deep snows – one of the deciding factors for choosing this place in Taylor County, Kentucky, was the moderate highs and lows throughout the year; both Derril and I spent childhoods in long-winter states (he in Ohio, I in Colorado) and remember well the cold and endless months under snowpack, waiting for Spring to arrive.  So finding a place to live the rest of our lives with definite seasons (San Diego has nothing of the sort) but without a preponderance of winter was an agreed upon objective, ruling out many alluring properties that presented themselves in Idaho, Wyoming, and upstate New York.

We’ll have to treasure every little snowfall we get once we’re there.  And I’ll never have a sleigh; one horse-drawn vehicle less to fill the equipment shed.  I’ll have to put sleigh bells on the horses’ harness anyway during the winter, though, just to enjoy the seasonal effect.  And take lots of pictures when a storm of white comes through, to savor the beauty before it disappears.

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Before we left the farm for Virginia on our last visit, we took Bobby up to the pasture edge to mark a couple of hickory trees to cut for firewood.  He’d talked about wanting some hickory firewood the entire time we were there, and although there are many trees already blown down that would make perfectly good firewood, by gum it was hickory the old man wanted.  Said his daddy burned hickory and it was the best firewood ever.  Needed a couple of years to season, so he wanted to get some cut right away.  Even though we haven’t put a stove in the little house yet, and they only use the fireplace if ever the power goes out.  And he has a stack of oak all put by.  Still, he wanted to cut some hickory, and I like to keep him happy, so I said I was sure there were a couple that could be culled for such a purpose.

Rather than leave him to decide which trees to cut, I said we’d go mark a few for him.  He couldn’t understand why I cared about hickory trees, said they weren’t valuable as lumber, no one would buy them.  To which I replied, I have no intention of selling any of my trees for lumber; I’m building a barn and a house with them, thank you very much, and a good saw log is a good saw log, whether it’s hickory or oak or poplar or maple.

So we drove on up and started around the pasture edge, and I asked him to point out any hickories he saw.  Bobby knows his trees, that’s for sure.  Can tell them apart by the bark, at a distance even.  We came up alongside three trees growing close together right at the pasture edge, which he said were all hickory but the one in the middle was a shagbark.  Well shagbarks are good nut trees, one of the best, and this one was growing straight up and had about 14-inch diameter already, but the other two were right next to it and sharing water, sunlight and nutrients.  Cutting them would leave the good grower to prosper by itself.  So we marked the ones on either side, and I said they’d give him more firewood than he would know what to do with, and vetoed his suggestion to cut the huge leaning hickory at the corner of the field, pointing out the three good saw logs in its lower trunk that may someday take their place in the bents of my big barn.

A week later they had a couple of days of good weather, and Alene emailed me that he’d got them felled and was busy cutting them into stove-length logs.  He dropped the first one right into the pasture, but the second one he felled into the woods behind; I would not have, I would have directed it out to the pasture as well, it was only leaning a little.  No telling what good saplings were crushed as it fell, but it was only one tree and he drug it out with the tractor by its butt onto the pasture, so minimum damage was done.

I don’t like that he doesn’t wear any safety equipment when he operates his saw.  He’s a careful old man, and seems to know his limits, but he does things the old way, especially if there’s much money or trouble involved.  You won’t catch me running a saw without chaps and a helmet with a faceguard and ear muffs, and I could buy all that for him but I doubt he’d wear it.  He cuts up quite a few trees and branches that fall across the paths and into the fields, so it isn’t like he wouldn’t get some use out it, but he’s a stubborn and tough old country boy.  Reminds me a lot of a hickory tree.

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