Last winter, we bought our first team of horses. They were a gorgeous team of haflingers, supposedly trained on all the ins and outs of farm work. We bought equipment, and started working them. We trained in classes, kept reading, brought in experts. We loved one of the pair quite dearly, Sunny- who we had been told was a lot of sass. We didn't find that, she was, by all means- the most willing work partner one could ever meet. She wanted us to push her limits, to see how strong she was. And we did, working with her as much as we could. But our older gal, just wanted to be retired. She was long spoiled after a time period of being off for too long. She fought us on ever single turn, and became downright dangerous on several occasions. We sought even more help, and the season started slipping away. We paid someone to plow the field, desperate to keep up with the vegetable planning- despite having budgeted only to make the huge purchase of the team and equipment. Farming is a domino effect, one things breaks or costs more- and the pieces topple on top of another causing a series of challenges and set backs. They just weren't the team we needed.
We were prepared for a solid working team. We weren't prepared for a shattered team. Part of this was inexperience in buying horses. It was heartbreaking, and I think that is why we haven't shared it before now. Our entire vision for the farm centered on using the team for the chores we needed to get done- not as fast as a tractor- but faster than our own bodies could do the work. We kept at it all, and then finally- realized it wasn't just us who were suffering. We had to do what's best for the farm, and what was best for the horses. We began looking for a new home for them.
Sunny, our prize gal- now lives with a family who uses her to pull the cart of their daughter, who has physical differences that don't allow her to ride along with everyone else. She's had tip top training, is well loved, and is by everyone's accounts- amazing. We keep in touch and check in on her, and miss her often.
Nataya, the grouchy mare- could only find a home as a companion horse. She keeps horses that are still employed company in the pasture. Her behavior only became more challenging the longer we had her, but by our few updates- retirement suits her well and nothing much is asked of her aside from a leisurely trail ride.
Last season dragged through, we kept up with the work using our truck and keeping very, very long days. We started looking for a replacement team casually, and licking wounds. Then we just stopped- not because we are done having a team- but because the season's work was overwhelming. Farming was still glorious- but it was also far more stressful then it had been previously. Then came the long winter, and our decision to transition to using the land for what it does best- grow grass to feed livestock.
We love our little piece of land. It's beautiful and in a community we've worked hard to get to know. The pasture that held the promise of a successful horse-powered farm will feed pigs, turkeys and sheep. We still will be horse powered, but like so many things we've worked for- it's just going to take more time.
I miss the smell of leather lines in my hands, the joy of working with an animal of that scale, doing those jobs. The clips, and snaps of the harnesses, the rough brush and the horse sweat. But I also recognize the magnitude of our struggle last season. We have to let the business grow, and shape to be successful. Right now that means we don't have a team, or a veggie patch. But we do have sounder sleep, happy chickens, a great game plan and a pretty gorgeous 1937 tractor. Our farm is incomplete without equines. But that just means there is more to work towards.