Big horses like the break from tedium

from our December 2012 issue

By Peter Wall – Sicamous, B.C.

We lived on a homestead near Macdowall, 30 km southwest of Prince Albert, Sask. Like most farmers of the region, keeping ‘body and soul’ together was a matter of work, of every kind.

My dad and his siblings were spread about the district and cooperated with one another over just about everything – building on the homestead, getting in winter farm wood, harvest, and whatever.

Life took lots of shapes for us preschool kids in the mid-1940s. We enjoyed the outdoors and were always ready for adventure.

My older sister, Helen, was married to another Wall, I believe a second cousin and they lived on our property not too far away. She was at our place with her four-month-old baby one day and at some point got tangled up with my older brother, Henry, who took her along in the sleigh.

The trip involved him swinging by the sawmill that our dad, with other relatives, was running on the property.

I don’t really know what the deal was – taking Helen home, picking up something that needed repair, dropping off lunch or water, or just showing off the grandchild to dad before carrying on.

Like to run them like chariot stallions

Whatever it was, Henry was eager to rig up the sleigh and harness, and hitch up the Percheron-cross with the big head along with the Clydesdale-cross with the big feet. I mention their ‘cross’ status because they were usually gentle creatures when anyone put them to work, but with Henry they took another character.

He loved to run them like a couple of chariot stallions, and they seemed to like the break from tedium.

I leaped at the chance to go along. I loved Henry’s approach to a winter sleigh ride.

We moved at a great clip and hooted with some of the lurching and bounce involved. The joyride was around our property so the trails and tracks were familiar enough to Prince and Mick. The mill wasn’t that distant so we got there in ‘jig-time’ with the horses not the least bit winded, even if ‘spirited’ with Henry’s offering them lead.

Helen, the baby, and I stayed in the sleigh while Henry trotted up to the mill to do his errand. That’s when the adventure broke out. The harness had blinders attached and Henry must have shouted something up to the mill, with all the usual noise it created. The horses made an interpretation and took off on the run!

The reins were flopping about like a couple of dizzy snakes on the ground. I gripped the side of the sleigh figuring it was the greatest fun ever. The horses were all over the place, sometimes on the trail and at other times tossing the sleigh up on a snowbank and then back down.

‘I felt my frame going airborne’

Helen’s mind was going full speed – a young mother alarmed for the baby she was determined to protect.

As the jarring continued she grabbed my shoulder and shouted in my ear as she yanked me over to her at the back of the sleigh. All I got was some mumble about ‘dropping over’.

I saw her lean over the back with the baby and the next thing I felt was my frame going airborne and into the snow swirling behind the sleigh. She leapt out a moment later and the next thing I knew I was shaking snow from my tumbled frame as she hauled me upright.

In a flash she was dragging me along to baby Ida, a crying bundle about 20-feet further back on the trail.

She looked a little frazzled but still managed a confidence-recovering smile at her little brother, Peter, as we trotted up the trail with Henry dashing toward us at full speed.

Helen yelled ‘over to you’ as he ran up to us, then carried on flailing and shouting as the ‘chariot stallions’ were doing their thing.