Saturday, December 5, 2009

Horses, Good Times, and Important Lessons

Speaking of horses, it seems there were severel  memorable horses, that we had as we were growing up. I beleive that was a natural part of growing up on a farm, espcially in the days when we didn't rely on tractors and  powered machinery to do much of the work.  It was mostly muscle and sweat, from both man and beast that got most of the work done in those early years as we were growing up on the farm.  This is a picture of one of those moments when the horse was used simply for fun.  It shows Ellis and me riding "Old Blue", at least, as I remember, that was her name.  I loved to be put up behind my big brother and go for rides down in the pasture to get the cows for milking or just around the field with no particular purpose in mind other than just to be outside and riding a horse.  We mostly road bareback.  Saddles were expensive and we could not often afford a good saddle.  I remember also some of the work horses we had on the farm. One team was named Pat and Strip,  They were a matched team, at least in looks, but one of them was a better worker and more responsive to it's driver than was the other.  I remember Dad  laying the whip on poor old Pat.  That seemed to help a little.  It was necessary to have at least one good team of draft horses.  As mentioned on another blog, one of our horses, Old Bird, if I remember correctly, was used to pull a scraper that had been filled with dirt out from under the house as the basement was being dug under the house after it had been placed on the two outside basement/foundation walls, which had been dug previously.  I remember at least one other saddle horse we had.  We called him "Old Smokey".  He was a very good riding horse with a wonderful three-step gait, that made riding on him really quite comfortable.  Dad always used to ride him around Lanark when he was taking care of his watermaster duties on the South Liberty Canal.  One of Dad's favorite things to do was to get on "Old Smokey" and take a long ride up into the mountains above Lanark.  He loved the mountains, especially during the summer and fall months.  It wasn't nearly as often as he would have liked that he found time to take these extended rides in the mountains.    One thing in particular that I remember about "Old Smokey" was how difficult he was to catch.  He was good to ride, but he never wanted to just come up to anyone and let them put a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back.  It used to be a family project to catch him.  He would run up one side of the pasture, cross the slough and run up the other side of the pasture and around and around we went.  Eventually we would get him corraled and Dad would put a bridle on him and saddle him and then it was off for a pleasant day on horeseback. In the summer time horses were used to mow  and rake the hay, and on the pushrake. which was used to push the hay on to the "ricker" or stacker so it could be deposited on the top of the hay stack, where it was stacked.  Ellis became Dad's right hand man at a very young age.  I remember him driving the team on the pushrake when he was just eleven or twelve years old.  He did a man's work at a young age.  I was three years younger, so my task soon became leading the pullup horse on the ricker.  I remember how frightened I was to do this job at first.  It had to be done just right or the hay would all be dropped down into the "ricker" requiring a lot of work to get it out again and a huge delay in getting the hay in.  I think, I was about eight or nine years old when I assumed this task.  I had gone to the field over across the slough, I thought to watch Ellis and Dad do the work of putting up a haystack.  When I got there dad told me he needed me to lead up the pullup horse.  I didn't know what I was doing, but he patiently showed me what was to be done.  I was scared, but I tried.  Ellis was driving the pushrake team and Dad was up on the stack with his pitchfork staking the hay.  I worked for a couple of hours without any major problems.  Then I got tired of it and decided I would walk home and be with Mother.  I started out across the field and got about a hundred yards from the hay stack when Dad noticed me leaving.  He called to me and asked me to come back, but I pretended not to hear.  He climbed down off from the haystak and came after me.  When he got to me, he didn't scold me, as I thought he might, instead I remember him kneeling down beside me, a little eight-year-old , and telling me, that I was a big boy now and that they really needed me to help them in the process of putting up the haystack.  I have always remembered that incident.  I remember the kindness in my daddy's eyes,  I remember the firmness in his voice, I remember the sadness I felt at not being able to get away from that work and that haystack, but more importantly I remember, after I had had a little time to think about it, how important I felt.  It is so good to be neeeded and useful.  From that time on, I felt like I was a necessary and contributing part of the family.  Sometimes I wonder if the youth of today get that same experience and how they compensate for it, if they don't.  I am glad, that I grew up on a farm, where we learned to work at a young age and did so together with others of the family.  We bonded by working together.  I came to appreciate my Dad and my big brother, Ellis, and our dear mother as we worked together to make our living on that small farm under rather severe and trying conditions.  We did it, and all of us  became better people for it.

by Bart


  1. Old Blue, was a good kid horse. I would lead her up beside the fence and climb from the fence onto her back. She was gentle, easy to ride, always without a saddle. Dad was afraid that our feet would get caught in the stirrups and we might be dragged by a spooked horse. I fell off that horse so many times I couldn't count them, Bart also with me some times. Old Blue had a nack of lowering her head as I was sliding out on her neck to put the reins over head at the conclusion of the ride and off I would go. I would also ride her to bring in the cows for evening milking. She knew what was required to herd the cows to the barn but she often made her quick move to the right or left to cut of an animal fron going the wrong way and being bareback with nothing to hold on to, off I would go. I learned a few cuss words from those occassions. Still for a six year old to have access to a horse to ride any time I wanted was a great asset for a little farm kid. Many kids today reading this would think I was pretty lucky. I guess I was.

  2. That last comment was from Ellis.