By Sherri Lyons
When I tell people that I live on a farm, one of the first questions they ask me is if I have horses. People automatically think of horses when they think of a farm. This could be because for generations people have used horses to plow their fields, round up cattle, or haul heavy loads to the market. Horses were also the transportation of choice for traveling to town or moving cross country. Yes, there were many benefits of owning a horse back a few decades ago, but what are they used for today? We have tractors and big trucks to do the hard work for us. Why should we keep horses now on a modern homestead?
Benefits of Owning a Horse
Horses are an Environmentally Friendly Way to Plow Fields
Well, for one thing, horses can still be used for plowing and tilling the ground. In fact, there are some farms that won’t use tractors or big trucks for farm use. They want to be as Earth-conscious as possible. Horses don’t use the fossil fuels required of big farm equipment. Most horses would just like a bit of grain and some good green grass as their fuel. They don’t leak oil onto the ground. Plus, their “exhaust” isn’t as bad for the environment and they don’t damage land as badly as modern equipment. In fact, some people even log their land with horses instead of big loggers and skidders.
Horses are Great at Pulling Logs
When my dad was a young boy, he used their horses to drag logs down from the hills on his family farm in Kentucky. He has told me many stories of the horses that just knew how to pull the logs so that they wouldn’t get stuck on other trees. Some of the horses they owned would get so excited to pull that when they were pounding the grabs (hooks attached to chains that were pounded into the log so the horses could pull them), he had to make sure that he never got out of rhythm with their pounding because the horses thought they were done hooking them up and they would start pulling.
Horses can work Cattle
Although tractors and trucks have replaced some of the heavy work horses, nothing can replace a good ranch horse. A ranch horse is a horse that is used on a farm for working cattle, riding the fence lines, and doing all kinds of important work. You don’t have to have a ranch to have a ranch horse. A trusty horse is a great companion when you have to check miles of fence—not only a companion, but a good “tool.” Some of the places that our fence runs on our farm are too steep for a truck or four-wheeler to go, but not too steep for our sure-footed ranch horse. She can go up and down those steep inclines and not miss a beat.
Then there have been times that we have had to cut a certain cow out from the herd for whatever reason. There is nothing that can be substituted for a good cow horse that just knows how that cow is going to turn. No four-wheeler, no truck, or a person can cut and stay up with a fast cow that doesn’t want to leave the herd. Horses know how the cows think.
Horses make Great Companions for Kids
If you don’t have hundreds of acres or herds of cows requiring a farm horse, what about getting one just for your family? To a child, a horse is many things: it’s a responsibility, it’s transportation, and it’s a friend. Being responsible to care for an animal is an excellent exercise in character building. I remember getting my first pony as a child. That pony meant everything to me. I would spend hours at a time just standing in her stall, brushing her and making sure she was clean and shiny. I made sure to get up early because I knew that she was depending on me for her food. We took many trips through the woods and explored many trails together. Of course, there were times I enjoyed just riding around the pastures. That pony and I got so much exercise that first summer! After I outgrew her, I got bigger horses and my love for these majestic animals has grown ever since.
Before you go and get just any pony for your child though, make sure you talk to a reputable person—a person who knows horses and someone you can trust. These animals are great to have, but they are still big animals and can accidentally injure you or your child. Something as simple as a big horse stepping on a foot can cause serious damage. Ask a trustworthy and experienced horse person to help you look for a horse or pony for you or a child.
If you are still unsure about getting a horse, I suggest going to a stable and working with the horses for a while. I’m sure the owner of the stable wouldn’t mind having a free hand when it comes to mucking out stalls and feeding. Try it out! You just might end up with a love for these animals too.
Sherri Lyons and her husband live on a farm in the Appalachia foothills. They have chickens, rabbits, grass fed cattle, and of course, horses. You can follow her and her adventures at www.smallfarmgirl.blogspot.com.