08 April 2012

Horses, Grease, and Sweat

It’s the first week at New Beat and what a week it was!  Kate and I arrived Monday morning and helped repair a greenhouse and spread manure in it in preparation for growing tomatoes and lettuce.  We also started work on the wall tent. 
Tuesday we were familiarized with the horse chores, which include feeding hay, cleaning their water buckets and refilling them, mucking out their stalls and putting down more bedding/sawdust, and harnessing the horses.  We also both learned to pick out the horses’ feet.  This involves picking up their feet and using a hoof pick, which is a curled piece of metal on a handle which allows you to pick any debris and gravel out of their hooves.  It is a very important piece of horse health maintenance because leaving debris in their feet can lead to infections and poor conformation/stride; there’s an old saying “no foot, no horse.”
Afterwards we got to ground drive horses; which is to say we each had a single horse and drove them around to accommodate them to us and vice versa and as a warmup to the rest of the season when we will be driving them with great frequency.  I got to drive Pete, the new black Percheron, while Kate drove Jewel (a blonde Belgian), Ken and Adrienne’s lead horse.  Pete is still becoming a member of the herd and apparently had been kicked around, literally, by both Jewel and Molly.  He has started to stick up for himself lately but as a logging horse, is very unfamiliar with most of the farm operations he’s been involved in so far.  Jewel and Pete were then hooked up to the spring tooth harrow to smooth out a field that Ken plowed last week with Jewel on the left and Pete on the right.  Both Kate and I got some basic experience driving them around and harrowing the field.  When we completed that task, we brought two walking plows down to Lauren’s field, where we would eventually be plowing to prepare the soil for her nursery and cover crops.  To end Tuesday we worked more on setting up the tent platform for our wall tent
We all started off Wednesday with hooking up the horses in order to plow.  At first Adrienne and Ken demonstrated the Pioneer walking plow that they bought from an Amish family.  It is huge, heavy, and in almost new shape.  Watching a plow turn over soil is mesmerizing; akin to watching waves on the ocean.  The driver’s, Ken’s, job is to make sure the horses walk straight and to keep the furrow horse (the right or off horse and in this case Pete) right on the land side of the furrow.  Ken describes this as keeping the furrow horse’s left feet on the left edge of the soil of the last furrow.
On my first few passes, I felt like I had just sprinted a mile.  When you watch a walking plow work, it looks as if you have to keep the tip of the plow pointed into the ground when in reality the plow, if set correctly and in good shape, will suck itself into the ground and the horses do most of the work.  Your job as the plowman is to make small adjustments if the horses begin to veer off course and to keep the plow in the ground if the plow hits a rock.  Hindsight is 20/20 and my hindsight didn’t kick in until the next day.  Both Kate and I had struggled a lot this first day of plowing.
As I alluded before, Pete is unfamiliar with farm work, which is steady work with breaks once in a while.  He was mainly used for logging and when logging, the horses pull some really heavy loads and therefore must really jolt the load to get it going initially.  Jolting is not good for things like plowing, harrowing, and cultivating around valuable plants.  The hope is that Pete will become familiar enough with the work that he will be a steady worker by the time we have to start cultivating.  He had taken all of us by surprise by taking off for 20 feet or more and nearly ripping the plow out of the plowman’s hands several times.  The plow even almost hit Ken, which could have been really bad.
Eventually he settled down and Ken and I did a lot of plowing while Adrienne and Kate cut some poles for the wall tent.  By then I was extremely tired despite feeling comfortable and relatively relaxed behind the plow.  At morning’s end I was starving and bushed.  The rest of the day we spent prepping soil blocks for seedlings and working on the tent platform.
Thursday morning we planted a whole bunch of cauliflower, peppers, and flowers in the greenhouse.  Before lunch we readied the horses for work.  That afternoon we finished the last third of the 1/3 acre we needed to plow.  When I came back to the plow, it felt as if it was an action I performed hundreds of times before.  There is something to be said about how your body learns even when you sleep, imprinting what you learned into muscle memory.  I was better able to help Kate become comfortable on the plow because I was able to describe the feel of the plow when it’s going well and I had just undergone that learning process.  She was also a very good observer, and took note of how my body was positioned and how I stood holding the plow in relation to myself.
We felt extremely accomplished to say the least.  It’s probably more accurate to say we were blissed out.  There is a feeling that is hard to put into words, but it is quite magical when the partnership between the team, the driver, and the plowman work together well to turn over a whole lot of sod or cover crop so that you can plant into it in the next few weeks.  Just magic.  The rest of the day we thinned seedlings happily to end a great week.
 Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
-Thomas Jefferson 

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