My first team of horses did not turn out too well.
I bought them just after Christmas and made my first mistake by not driving them before they were delivered to the farm. My second mistake was buying a used harness at an auction. I found out that just because a harness is glistening with harness oil doesn’t mean it’s sound and safe.
I knew I was in trouble when the bit fell out of the horse’s mouth because the bit straps were rotten, and I had better reconsider doing a trial run. That’s when I got to know harness maker Bernie Samson, who set me up with a good harness and a lifetime of good advice.
The first team was Ben and Charlie, a black and a grey Percheron. Ben turned out to be a pretty good horse, but Charlie lived up to his full name, Charlie Horse. He was a real pain in the leg — literally — as he had a propensity to try to kick you whenever you tried to harness him. He must have had some practice as he was quite methodical about it. Thinking I could cure his problem, I tried line driving him single. It went pretty good when we went down the pasture lane and into the back field. Then we turned and began heading back to the barn.
I should have suspected something when his head came up and he started the dance. I think he may have been a little hard of hearing or maybe a bit confused and thought, “Whoa,” meant “GO!” and a repeated “Whoa,” in an increasingly louder voice meant “Go faster.” I hung on for the first few hundred yards thinking a little pressure on the bit might get his attention. I guess the pressure stabilized when I went airborne as he shifted into high gear. I probably would have been okay if it had not been for that stump. To this day I don’t recommend clearing stumps with one’s head.
He waited patiently for me at the barn door then tried to kick me when I went to take off the harness. I said to Charlie,”How about you and me take a ride? ”
He must have been excited because he jumped right in the trailer the day of the next horse sale in Mora. When I was leading him through the sales ring, I got a strange feeling he had been there before.
Someone hollered out from the stands “Is he broke?” I said “No, but I am.”
He sold for about half what I paid for him. I guess this should have been an omen of how my skills at horse trading would turn out in the future. When I complained about this to my advisor, Bernie, he said “You couldn’t have gotten a college education on buying horses for that price. ”
Owning draft horses has brought me into contact with some pretty interesting people. The draft horse books call them “old timers.” Find an old timer and seek his advice, they say. Generally good advice until you ask, “Say how did you get that scar?”
More on adventures from the early days later.