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Bringing Back Real Horse Power

Updated on April 1, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.

Draft Horses and Mules


One of the joys of writing The Book of Draft Horses and The Book of Mules has been meeting some folks who have taken it upon themselves to preserve a part of our country's heritage; partnering up with their work animals to plow, work fields, mow and rake hay, skid logs, pull horse drawn vehicles, and compete in horse pulls.

This return to the good ole days' way of doing things can in part be attributed to the rising cost of fuel and environmental concerns. Also, many folks can remember when working with horses were the norm rather than a novelty and are returning to using draft horses for nostalgic reasons.

In the tradition of early settlers who pooled their labor for big jobs like barn building, breaking ground for farming and quilting bees, some of today's draft horse owners hold events called plow days so they can preserve and pass on the skills of working with horses to future generations.

One such person is Mr. Jimmy Dozier of Nashville, North Carolina. He uses draft horses to plow the thirty acres he sets aside to grow corn, and to make hay. Mr. Dozier has two draft teams: Belgian Drafts, Marty and Mary, and two American Spotted Drafts named Maggie and Molly.

Mr. Dozier began inviting folks over for a plow days several years ago, and it has turned into a big event in Nash County.. Friends and neighbors come by to watch and some even try their hand behind the plow. The first one I attended had only a couple of teams plowing. This year there were maybe a dozen teams plowing the 30-acre cornfield. Other teams pulled wagons, giving spectators a ride around the whole farm. A trick mule showed up to entertain, there was an antique car show, a vintage fire truck, and some folks demonstrating old machines. The demos included a mill that grinds corn meal and grits, and a gasoline water pump. There were hundreds of people there to watch the horses and reminisce about the old days. Oh yes, and there was plenty of food for everyone.

Horse pulls are contests of strength. North Carolina is host to the Southern National Draft Horse Pull held in conjunction with the Southern Farm Show every February. It is one of the biggest horse events to take place at North Carolina's Hunt Horse Complex in Raleigh. The pulling contest between draft horses, like other contests of strength, stamina or speed of horses has its roots in pride of ownership. One farmer challenged another and the contest was on. As time went on and one thing led to another, rules were drawn up, the contests were sanctioned, and the rest is history. These contests are held all over the country. If you have the opportunity to go and watch these massive equines do their thing, you'll never forget the experience.

Horses and mules are also making a comeback in the logging industry. Selective harvesting done by horsepower leaves less impact on the environment and is less expensive than logging with heavy machinery in terms of equipment and operating costs.

Jason Rutledge of Virginia founded Healing Harvest Forest Foundation (HHFF) 1999 to promote using horses to log on a worse first single tree harvesting technique and to provide educational opportunities for the public and forestry students. Rutledge has conducted workshops throughout the east for the public at colleges and universities, including Duke University, to teach responsible forestry practices using draft horses. Draft horse owners across the country have graduated from this program to become certified biological woodsmen.

Their size and strength coupled with their gentle nature make the draft horse or mule make an ideal workmate. When compared to a tractor the draft equine runs on renewable fuel, is quiet, can get in and out of tight spots, can "repair itself" in most cases, and even can reproduce itself. As one draft horse owner said, "You're not going to go out one morning and find a baby tractor in the barnyard." While the monetary value is important, it doesn't begin to show the power these magnificent animals have in the hearts and minds of their owners and admirers.


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    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Jimmy's 2010 Plow Day will be April 3rd, "10AM till the work's done." Rocky Mount, NC

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 8 years ago from United States

      The plowing event you described reminds me a bit of a yearly festival my dad liked to go to when I was a kid...Old Thresher's Day in Yuma, Colorado. They featured many draft horses of various breeds, the machines they ran - I'll never forget watching the thresher - milking cows...broom making... If it was old-fashioned, it was featured.

      During high school, my brother and I refurbished two old draft horse harnesses that had sat for years in the barn, and trained two of our riding horses for harness. We used them for work and play almost every day until we both moved away from home.

      One of them - probably, she was a little Russian Draft, though nobody knew for sure - loved to pull so much that she literally danced every time her harness was on...if we let her, trotting around freely just to hear it jingle. Sweet thing.

      I look forward to the time when I can again have horses, and, hopefully, heavy ones.

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      Forest Ireland 8 years ago

      We used shires a long time ago to drag timber from our plantation in Galway.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      I once did an interview with a neighbor who raises Belgians. When they run acrosst the pasture you can feel the ground shake. Nice story.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Sally, that sounds like an awesome vacation. I took my 4-H club on a boyscout benefit ride years ago. We rode in a horse-drawn wagon since most of the kids didn't have a horse. I was amazed how those big horses could manuver that wagon through narrow trails and around trees. We did have to all get out of the wagon when we got stuck. Then climb back in after they got the wagon out of the mud. All the kids had a blast!

    • donnaleemason profile image

      donnaleemason 9 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      Brilliant Donna. Wish there were more of them about. The big horses are truly majestic.


    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Your hub reminds me of a vacation I spent with my daughter in the Poconos one November.  I picked this particular hotel because it advertised trail riding and hay rides.  My daughter was just beginning to be involved in horses (now, horses are her career), and I thought this little vacation would be something special for the two of us.

      We took a trail ride together, and that was nice.  But the BEST was spending time with the draft horses who hauled the wagon.  After our trail ride, we put the trail horses in the barn, and the owner said, would you like to meet our draft horses?  We said, sure.  The two draft horses were still wearing their breast collars, and it was time to untack them and brush them down. 

      I had never been close to a draft horse before, and had no idea of how big it was.  I can't tell you in hands, it was a long time ago.  What I do remember is the owner saying to my daughter, would you like to take his yoke off, and Mom, will you help?  We said yes, of course.  But how to do that?  The horse's head towered over us.  There was no way to reach up.  Then, the owner whistled a little command, and the horse dropped his head to let us, mother and daughter, remove his breast collar right over his ears.  It was an awesome moment.  Two little people in front of this magnificent horse and all his power.

      Thanks for bringing back such wonderful memories. Awesome hub, Donna.