So you want a horse

First, I hope everyone had a wonderful, peaceful Mother’s Day.  I enjoyed a freshly scrubbed kitchen (thank you Ben!) and spent most of the day listening to Ella giggle hysterically while we played with our new kitten and some ribbon (sorry, no photos yet!).

Emmalina asked for advice about finding a draft horse, and as usual, I assume that there is probably someone else who wants to know.  So here is a quick list of tips, based on our experience.


1.  Find a teamster near you. When we first considered the possibility of working with horses, we went to visit the closest farm using horse power that we knew of – the wonderful David Fisher at Natural Roots Farm listened to our questions, told us about his experiences, and showed us around his beautiful farm.  When we started looking for our own horse, we mostly used craigslist, which led us to various horses, and eventually to our own Cole.  Just as important, that search led us to meet fellow teamster and ferrier Roy Nilson, who helped us “test-drive” Cole (Cole’s origin is unknown, so Roy brought out harnessing and worked him with us, to see if he knew any commands etc), and helped us out enormously and in so many ways when we were first getting started.  He is still our ferrier, and our dear friend.

2.   Get schooled. There are some really excellent draft horse books put out by the Small Farmer’s Journal.  The Journal, also, is fantastic.  Ben also owns, and has watched many times over, the Doc Hammil videos, which are great.

3.  Get hands on. Working with horses is intensely physical, not to mention dangerous, even if you know what you’re doing, and while books and videos can help you become familiar with some of the basics, I think Ben and I would agree (And most teamsters would, as well) that you need to learn from a real live person, with a real live horse.  Before we started really looking for our own horse, Ben took a draft horse intensive workshop at Fair Winds Farm.  Find the best workshop that you can get to, and go!


Ok, so that’s my best advice for finding and getting ready for a horse.  Our horse, Cole, is a Belgian (possibly a mix) who weighs about 1600 lbs.  We suspect he was from Amish country, because he got some excellent early basic training from someone, and there are not many draft horse trainers in our area.  He was bought at auction, and living at a farm with someone who liked big horses, but knew he’d be happier working, which is how we came to find him.  One of his back hooves is slightly deformed, which our vet says poses no trouble with the amount we work him (1-2 times a week in the busiest parts of summer), but might have given him early arthritis working 6-10 hour days on an Amish farm, which is probably why he was sent to auction.

Other than that, I would just add that having a draft horse on our farm has been a wonderful, joyful experience.  Even when he decided to come into the living room.


5 Responses to “So you want a horse”

  1. 1

    Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together Adrie! Wonderful information that has spurred me on to find out even more : )

  2. 2

    My husband just took a workshop this weekend on driving a draft horse team! He loved it, and we’re really hoping to pursue that a bit more. For now, he’ll keep driving whenever possible at the farm that hosted the workshop, and we’ll work in him teaching me how at some point. (Don’t worry; the man who hosted the workshop said he’d supervise my learning how! He said I didn’t have to wait for another workshop, since my husband can help teach me, but I’m sure the two of us won’t be left to muddle through my draft horse education on our own!) Dh had a great time, and – who knows – maybe the knowledge will come in handy one of these days…

  3. 3

    I am hiding this post from my seven year old – for whom the fact that we live in a flat, in the middle of a city, with a small shared garden, has no impact on her desire for a horse!

  4. 4

    great pic of your horse in your living room! I would like to point out that any sized horse can be used in harness. It might be easier for people just starting out to consider a smaller breed than a full sized draft horse. For example, both haflingers and Norweigan Fjords are draft pony breeds that make excellent work horses. And for lighter bodied horses, old style morgan horses are excellent. They were originally bred as a dual purpose (work and pleasure) farm horse. In particular if you are only using the horse for light work, you don’t need the expense of feeding and maintaining a huge draft (they do cost more to keep). However if you are going to be working horses full time pulling huge loads etc, then a draft (or 3) probably is for you. But if you have that scale of farm you probably already know that!
    I have a 14.1 hand haflinger mare who is an excellent work horse, and who also doesn’t mind giving out pony rides to small kids and general pleasure rides. I have worked with drafts for years and really enjoy how much cheaper my haflinger is to feed and care for, and I love how versatile she is.

  5. 5

    I remmber that pic of your horse in your house from your circle of stones interview. Is there a story behind it? Or do you always invite him in for tea? I love it, and it is an image that has stuck wth me and left me wondering. I’d love to hear more about it. Enjoy your week Adrie!


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