By A. Peterson with W. Bernard. Dorena Oregon, September 2017
What?! There are folks who use draft horses in farming, in the 21st century? Yes, indeed. Many of these people are neither re-enactors, nor Amish, and use live horsepower for the very real reason of doing work in their farming businesses. In fact, draft power is currently experiencing a renaissance, since horses, mules, and oxen are efficient sources of energy on small and medium scale farms; draft animals are not dependent on fossil fuels, and even produce their own fertilizer! Furthermore, ongoing studies on draft-powered farming are clearly demonstrating the benefits for soil in terms of compaction and water retention. Besides, working alongside a workhorse is downright fun.
This is the case at Ruby & Amber’s Farm, (www.rubyandambers.com), an organic market farm in Dorena, Oregon. A seventy-acre farm, nestled in the southern Willamette Valley, it produces a variety of vegetables and eggs for a CSA, (community-supported agriculture), program as well as markets in the Eugene area. While tractors are put to work for some tasks, horses are used for about 80% of the field tillage, carrying out ploughing, disking, harrowing, compost spreading, and mowing.
I moved to the farm initially with my horse in April 2016 as an intern, but have since stayed on as an employee. As someone who had many years of riding experience plus carriage driving, using horses in farm work has been rather different from what I had initially assumed. It is more challenging than most people would believe. Yes, slow-paced at times, but one must be absolutely precise, or else you can make much more work for yourself. Your rein, (“line” in draft horse jargon), handling improves immensely since you have no seat or leg aids to use as in riding. Furthermore, you not only have to manage your horses, but also operate the implement you are using.
Walt operates Workhorse Workshops, (www.workhorseworkshops.com), a draft horse driving and farming educational business integrated into the farm work at Ruby & Amber’s. Workhorse Workshops offers weekend-long workshops, as well as longer-term teamster and horse training options. Walt is assisted by his eight fabulous Belgians and Suffolks who help teach class participants, and has many different farm implements to view and use during workshops as well, providing an amazing opportunity to see how various horse-drawn equipment works. Workhorse Workshops’ programs are designed to teach both the novice as well as experienced persons the information and skills they need to become effective and accomplished teamsters in the craft of draft horse farming and driving. Students range from folks who have hardly any previous horse experience and are curious to see how these gentle giants work in agriculture, to those who have their own driving horses, which they bring for training. There are also farmers who come to get an idea of what is involved, and whether they want to pursue buying their own drafts for farm work or driving in the future. Students have come from across the USA and beyond to participate in Workhorse Workshops’ highly effective and successful educational programs. You do not have to look far in the Pacific Northwest and beyond to find a draft horse powered farmer who has participated on one of Walt’s programs.
If you have never worked with draft horses, you are missing out! They are truly amazing teachers and coworkers, and the immense satisfaction one feels in getting a job done while driving cannot be understated. For more information, visit: www.workhorseworkshops.com