Horse Tales

When I bought the farm a pair of horses named Chub and Doll came with the deal. Chub was an almost perfect workhorse having all the qualities you could ask for in a horse. Doll had some problems. Clarence Knapp from whom I bought the farm very honestly told me he thought she had the "heaves" meaning her breathing was affected by hay dust, something like asthma. He suggested I should limit the amount of hay I fed her. The heaves of course would affect her ability to breathe freely and work hard. In Mr. Knapp's later years a young, male relative had lived with him and his wife, Rose, and handled the horses most of the time. I suspect that was when Doll's problems began.

Besides having the heaves Doll was also "head shy". When you tried to put the headstall [bridle] on her she would jerk her head high in the air, roll her eyes around, and try to avoid the bit. Obviously she had at one time been misused and beaten about the head. I found that by approaching her slowly and talking to her quietly, she was quite manageable. I also found that giving her all the hay she could eat did not worsen her "heaves". I think she had not been getting enough to eat.

But Doll was never the worker that Chub was. You might say they were both willing workers. Chub was "willing to work and Doll was willing to let him". [An old farmer saying].

Being the only power [besides man-power] for the farm work the horses were very important. They had to be well fed and not over worked. In the season of heaviest work for them they had to be used wisely. We plowed with a horse drawn walking plow, and fitted the soil with a spring tooth drag [harrow]. Dragging was the hardest work and dragging all day long would be really too much for one team. So often I would plow a half-day and drag the other half to give the horses a change. Later when I had three horses, I used a three-horse team to drag the fields. The three horses were hitched side by side. The team of two pulled together and the third horse was given a double length of "evener" to give him twice as much leverage. In this way the load was equally distributed among the three. Of course I was also walking, first behind the plow, and then, behind the drag. After the first year I bought a sulky plow. This was a two-wheeled contraption on which I could ride. It had two plow bottoms with moldboards facing in opposite directions. Either one could be raised or lowered into plowing position by pulling levers. It amounted to about the same thing as a "side hill plow". You could plow one way across a field and instead of going around the perimeter, could raise one plow and lower the other, and go back the way you had come. Thus the furrows always turned the same way. On a slope you just had to decide whether to turn the furrows up hill or downhill.

After it was plowed, each field had to be broken up with the spring-tooth drag three times or more. The first time over it was dragged in the same direction that it had been plowed; that is, length-ways of the furrows, with the teeth set in shallow position. Then diagonally at least twice from opposite corners the teeth being set deeper each time. The horses were tired by the end of the day and were glad to get to the barn for their feeding of grain and hay, or to be put out to pasture for the night. By the end of a day I was "dragging" a bit myself, but still had the milking and other chores to do. I usually started my day about 4 A.M. and got in to supper about 9 or 9:30 P.M.

Chub was a light gray color and was round, fat, and close to the ground. He was a great worker and was always well behaved, and gentle to be around. Doll was a brown color, nervous and high strung, but always followed Chub's lead. When catching the horses, mornings in the pasture, to get ready for the day's work, I knew that if I could catch Chub, Doll would follow us to the barn. Sometimes Chub wanted to have a little fun with me before he submitted to the halter. He would let me come almost up to him and then he would turn, kick up his heels, and whirl away. He would come right back and let me try again. Sometimes if I were in a hurry, I would bring a bucket with some oats in the bottom. When Chub heard me shake the oats around, he would run over and start eating. He accepted this bribe, and even when he had finished the oats he no longer tried to get away. He allowed me to put on the halter without a fuss, and ambled alongside me up to the barn with Doll following. Apparently in return for the oats, he decided to stop fooling around. If I tried the same thing on Doll, she would grab a mouthful of oats and run away before I could get the halter on her. Chub seemed to know we had to quit fooling around and get to work.

One of the pleasures of driving horses was in knowing you could go almost anywhere without getting stuck. There were no drive wheels to start spinning. Snow or mud didn't stop the horses from pulling whatever vehicle you had. There were a couple times in the winter when this did not hold true. One time on a stormy day in winter I had finished cleaning the stable and had a load of manure on the pung. A pung was a short, single section sleigh, as opposed to a "bobs" that has two sections of runners. The front section of a "bobs" can turn free of the rear section, similar to the way the tractor on a tractor-trailer truck turns corners.

We were well out in a field, the horses having a good workout pulling the short sleigh through the foot deep snow.

Without realizing it until too late I found we had driven into a deep drift and the horses stopped. They were belly deep in snow and couldn't move. This threw Doll into a panic and she started to thrash around in her harness.

As I talked to them quietly to calm them down, Chub just squatted and sat down in the snowdrift. After my calming voice and Chub's example, Doll followed suit. So they sat still, giving me time to get out of the pung and shovel the top couple of feet of snow away in front of them, and dig some from under them. As soon as their legs were freed they were able to break out of the remaining drift, and we continued on with out any more trouble.

Another time I was coming home from Oneida. It was storming and the snow blocked our road. As usual under these conditions I parked the car in Bob Bartlett's yard at Butler's Corners, which was a half-mile below our place, and started to walk. Just then Jonas Parmeter, one of Don Parmeter's sons, came up behind me on his horse. He was headed for Ronald Olcott's farm up past our place where he was working at the time. He offered me a ride. So I climbed up on the horse behind him and we started up across a field, since the drifts were too deep in the road. We had gone only a short distance when the horse began to flounder in the deep snow. Well, we both had to get off and walk for some distance until we found a route where the snow was not as deep and we could remount. Even horses have their limitations in deep snow.

Chub had one problem. It was not his fault, of course, but he had soft hooves. If he were not kept shod, his hooves would break up. Chunks of the hoof would break off leaving him with very sore feet. Usually we could get a blacksmith to come to the farm, to shape and trim his hoofs and put on shoes. We always had the horses "sharp shod" in the winter allowing them to walk in icy conditions without fear of falling. One spring I couldn't get a blacksmith, who would come to the farm, so early one morning Chub and I started toward Morrisville seven or eight miles away. I had no saddle so I rode him bareback. It was a soft seat for me, he was so round and fat, but after a short time I found I had to spread my legs so far apart on his wide back that I felt like a chicken's wish bone, ready to be pulled apart. So I walked most of the trip. We arrived at Fitzimmons' shop and got Chub shod. While I was waiting I watched the carpenters making manure pungs, sleighs, and repairing wagon wheels, and other things. You could get most anything done there for the farm. I had them reshape and sharpen my plow points in their forge every year.

One day I heard that my cousin, Seymour Lloyd, was no longer using horses on his Deansboro farm. He wanted to find a home for his last horse, Daisy, and asked if I wanted her. Of course I said yes and Daisy became a teammate to Chub and Doll. She made it possible for me to use the three-horse hitch when fitting land.

Daisy was a good worker and made a good match for Chub for several years. I unwisely kept our pig feed stored in a garbage can in the horse barn. One night Daisy broke loose from her stall. She knocked the cover off the can and ate all the pig feed she could hold. Contrary to myth pigs, unlike horses, can be fed any amount of feed and they know enough not to eat too much. Daisy filled up with the low fiber concentrated pig feed. A pig's diet is relatively low in fiber, more like humans', whereas horses and cows are primarily roughage eaters.

In the morning I immediately saw she was very sick and the messed up feed bin told the story. I guess they call her illness that day "foundering". The only treatment that I knew of for that was not to let a horse lie down, as it would probably never be able to get up again.

So I took her out of the stall and led her around the yard, around the barn, back and forth for a several hours. I made her walk as fast as I could, to work off some of that feed. Well, she did recover. Later when I sold out our farm operations and moved to the Stoddard farm in Hoboken where we now live, I gave Chub and Daisy to Dora and her husband to keep on their farm.

About the time of Daisy's trouble I heard that Charlie Dodge of the East Road in Stockbridge had a horse that was the remaining member of his team, and he wished to find a home for him. Tractors were beginning to replace horses for much of the farm work. I bought Tom for $100. It was a good deal. Tom was brown in color, and always stayed round and fat. Such horses were called "easy keepers". He was a good all-around horse.

"Chub and Doll in the Barnyard"

Doll's next problem was deadly. When I entered the barn one morning she was standing stiffly in the stall shaking and trembling all over with pain. She was standing on three legs holding up the left hind hoof. The leg was broken near the knee, with the bottom part sticking through the skin at an angle. The horses often played by biting and kicking each other playfully when in the pasture. They both might have backed out of their stalls far enough for Chub to be able to kick her, or Doll may have just kicked the side of the stall. Anyway the leg was broken.

I did what I had to do. I took the other horses out of the barn, got my shotgun and shot her in the head as she stood in the stall.

A short time later the man from the rendering plant arrived and "winched" her body into his truck. Chub seemed to miss her a lot. He looked into her empty stall whenever he passed by it.

Such were the realities of farm life.

Charles E. Page January 2003

 

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