By Lloyd Kitching – Carman, Man.
My brother and I were just teenagers when our father died. Along with mother, we took over the operation of our small mixed farm. We had no tractor and used four horses to do all the farm work.
Our favourite team was Nell and Doll. They were Percherons, sisters who were four and five years old. We used them for working the fields and doing chores around the farm. They were our team for going to town and, even occasionally, as riding horses. They were full of life and loved to go full-out and they quickly learned to obey commands.
On one occasion during harvesttime, I’d left them standing by the threshing machine. Their reins were draped loosely around a peg on the rack as I went to help the operator make some repairs.
As the machine started up again, something spooked them. They took off at a gallop. One rein was tighter than the other so they started running in large circles. When I got close enough to be heard, I just called, “whoa.” That was all it took to bring my runaways under control.
Team anxious to get home too
My next runaway was while I was hauling sheaves to the threshing machine. It happened on a Saturday night. We were threshing two miles from home and the boss sent me back to get the last load of sheaves from a wheat field.
No one wanted to be last on a Saturday night. Certainly not a teenager who still had two miles to go home and several cows to milk before he could leave for town. Saturday night in town was almost sacred.
The other horses had all left long before I got my rack emptied and swung out on the road for home. Although Nell and Doll weren’t going to town for an evening out, they seemed just as anxious as I was to get home. They picked up speed as the steel-wheeled wagon rattled over the bumpy road.
I pulled hard on the reins but they ran harder. I realized that they were out of control but wasn’t worried. Suddenly, one wheel dropped into a huge gopher hole. The wagon’s tongue jerked to one side and dropped free of the neck-yoke and fell to the ground. A disaster at any time and a real danger when a team is on a dead run. Instinctively, I hollered: “Whoa!”
Sitting like an overgrown dog
The team stopped dead. The rack smashed into the back of horses at high speed. Nell and Doll jumped left first, then right. They stood trembling with the fallen wagon tongue between their legs, but they stood there until I got the mess sorted out. I put the tongue back in place, and fastened it securely. Getting back on the rack, I proceeded home at a more normal speed. Believe me, Nell and Doll got lots of petting and a few extra oats that weekend.
Another occasion I’ll never forget was one Sunday afternoon when Nell and Doll were enjoying a weekend off. They were grazing contentedly in the pasture when one of them discovered a gate had been left unsecured. In no time flat, both horses were out on the road headed towards the neighbours. I jumped into our recently acquired truck and took off in hot pursuit.
When I caught up to them on the road, they merely crossed the ditch and continued running on a narrow path between the ditch and a barbed wire fence. I got what I thought was far enough ahead and stopped the truck, then jumped out and raced across the ditch. The horses, caught up in the excitement of the race, continued running at full speed.
As I dashed through the ditch, I tripped and fell flat across the path in front of the running horses. I felt a bump on my side, when I looked up, Nell, who had been ahead of her sister, was right on top of me.
It was only a bit of fun
Her head and neck had passed over my body. I was lying against her front feet which were planted solidly together where she had skidded to a stop. Her hind feet were tucked underneath her and she was literally sitting on her hind quarters like an overgrown dog.
She’d gone from a dead run to a complete stop in almost no time when I fell in front of her. She scrambled carefully to her feet and backed away. She seemed relieved when I rose to my feet. Then the two horses, looking thoroughly subdued, trotted sedately back towards their pasture. It was as if they were telling me they hadn’t meant any harm and were only out for a bit of fun.