Team of ponies used as make-shift ambulance

From our October 2012 issue

By Ggrace (Brownell) Schuster – Calgary, Alta.

We lived on a farm in southeastern Saskatchewan, as we used to say, “15 miles from nowhere!”

My dad was a good horseman and always kept an excellent team of ponies. These ponies were very special to our family. They saw all four of us kids to school either by buggy, cart or sleigh or even on horseback occasionally. I don’t remember walking to school one day of my life!

They also served in other areas. I’ll never forget a rather traumatic incident that happened one cold winter night when I was about 10 years old.

A neighbour who lived about 1-1⁄2 miles south of us had a fall and needed help badly. This elderly couple lived a rather secluded life. They didn’t even have a telephone.

As I recall, this gentleman fell down into their cellar. Back then, houses usually only had a ‘hole in the ground’ and used a trapdoor in the floor as entrance to this cellar. He had broken some ribs. His one arm had previously been injured and he was partially handicapped by this.

His wife couldn’t lift him or get him up from the cellar, and having no telephone, she donned winter clothing and walked a half-mile to her brother-in-law’s to ask for his help. He came back to the house with her to see his brother and knowing he couldn’t move him he hiked across the field in knee-deep snow, to another neighbour. From there, they phoned my dad and explained the situation.

By now it was already well past midnight. Hospitals and doctors were scarce in our area. Therefore, while dad was harnessing the horses, mom got on the phone and called her parents who lived on a farm near the town of Redvers, Sask., about 15 miles south.

The railroad ran through this town. They called someone who knew how to contact the person who operated the ‘jigger,’ which is the contraption used on the railroad to go up and down the tracks to do repairs and to make sure the tracks were okay.

This was the only way they could think of being able to get a doctor for the injured man because the roads weren’t cleared of snow to drive a vehicle. This would have been around the late ‘40s.

Dad hitched the ponies to the light cutter which was easier for them to pull, rather than a big sleigh. Mom threw in as many blankets as she could find, including a couple of fur robes we used in those days, and dad headed for town to get the doctor.

He drove our wonderful team of ponies as fast as he dared, pushing them to the limit to get to town. The ponies were exhausted and lathered in sweat! Dad took them to my grandparents’ farm just one mile from Redvers where they were brushed down, blanketed, fed, and watered well.

Meanwhile, the doctor had arrived in Redvers on the jigger. Dad picked him up and drove him out to the farm to see the patient. The doctor was not dressed for the extreme cold. He had only Oxfords on his feet!

At the neighbour’s farm they rested the team for a short time, while the doctor tended to the patient. Then, dad took the doctor back to Redvers where he rode the jigger back to his home. Dad picked up his own team again at my grandfather’s farm to drive back home. The night was now well into the morning.

Our neighbour’s wife nursed her husband at home, where he remained in his own bed until his ribs healed. Meanwhile, dad and my brother and a few neighbours looked after his chores until he was on his feet again and able to handle things on his own. That’s how farmers helped one another in times of need.

Our wonderful team of ponies was used as an ambulance more than this once. They also saw us through countless blizzards, herded hundreds of cattle, and made regular trips to town for supplies. We loved our ponies.

Several years later we knew they were getting old. One of them had arthritis badly in one hip. Something had to be done. Dad decided to ship them. I don’t know where but they would be removed from our farm and we would not see what happened after that!

The day they left on the truck, I remember we all stood at the window in the house and we were all crying.

Grace holding the reins while younger sister, Helen, holds onto the heavy box sleigh pulled by their matching team of horses.