The Wonderful World of Horses

By Staff
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R1, Box 63, Avoca, Iowa 51521. 

After my last story about farming with horses was published,
several people inquired if I had any more horse stories. A friend
once told me that ‘in the early days’ one out of every
family was a story teller. I suppose my dad could fit into that
category. He told me many stories when I was very little. From
these we will try to construct another horse story or two.

When we figure farming with horses was pretty well going out by
the time I came along, I didn’t have much of a chance to get in
on much of the fun.

In the 1880’s and 1890’s the main source of power was
horses. I’m sure anyone who has been to a threshing bee has
seen ‘horse power’. This was a circular device securely
fastened to the earth. It had, in the center, an assembly of gears
that were turned by a pole or ‘beam’ which was pulled round
and around, often by four head of horses. In turn, a shaft was
attached to the gears and ran along the ground to the implement
which needed power. When running a threshing machine, the horses
would be tired from walking around and around. They were replaced
by another team. This was done quite often.

The most interesting source of power derived from horses, for
me, was transportation. Let’s take the old family doctor. Often
he would own his own team of trotters. Usually a well matched pair.
He would be known to travel 40 miles to deliver a baby. On trips
like this it would become very boring. I don’t recall how many
miles per hour horses would travel. However, if I, as a boy, walked
into the neighboring town 6 miles away, I usually could make the
trip in good weather in two and one half hours. We might consider,
babies are most generally born in bad weather. Old Doc would take
along a gentleman to visit with, to help pass the time. Sometimes
the two men would chew tobacco and make a small wager on how far
they could squirt the tobacco juice. I once heard a tale of this
old fellow coming into the local barber shop flashing a nice roll
of bills. ‘Where did you come across all that money?’ all
the onlookers asked. ‘Well, by golly fellers,’ he replied,
‘it seems I rode along with old Doc to Topeka and back. He bet
on the right horse and I bet on the left.’ ‘What do you
mean you bet on the team?’ was asked. ‘Well sir, we was
bettin’ on which one would go to the bathroom first. I reckon
my horse had a touch of the scours.’

My father had a smaller breed of horses. I’m sure most
people are acquainted with the gigantic Budweiser team on TV. These
are Clydesdales. There are several very large horses, others are
Percheron and Belgian. I am told that the hoof of a Clydesdale can
be 12′ across. Some friends of ours raise Belgian horses. They
are a medium build. However, the horses my dad had were Morgan. I
recall as a small boy we still had Nancy and Jane. Both of these
fine horses died before I was 10 years old. I asked Dad what breed
they were and he told me he thought they were Morgan.

The horse I was more familiar with was ‘Ginger’, an
American saddle mare. She was indeed the color of the spice ginger,
also slender with long legs, mane and tail. She was a’
gaited’ pony. I can’t recall how many gaits she had. I do
know she loved kids and was a very smooth riding saddle mare.
Another saddle mare my dad had was a black quarter horse mare, that
I have written about in previous stories. Her name was

My dad was a strange man, on one hand he had told me he
didn’t want me to be a farmer, as he thought I was too smart.
He wanted me to be a civil engineer. He would discourage me from
being around the machinery or horses. A brother had been kicked in
the head. Dad didn’t want that to happen again. He would
repeatedly scold me to stay away from his horses.

On the other hand he would ridicule me-why wasn’t I like the
other boys? Why didn’t I ride horses like they? This
inconsistency disturbed me very deeply.

My dad would take his team and single seat buggy to town once a
month for groceries. I knew that although he left early in the
‘forenoon’ it would be dusk before he returned. I had made
my mind up that I would learn to ride a horse, the very next time
he ventured into town. Lightning was in the lot by herself. I went
to the barn to get a bridle. All we had were the sort used with a
harness. These had large eye shields on each side so the horse
could not see what transpired behind or to the side. I had
contemplated this plan of action several days ahead. I had no
‘bridle reins’ with which to steer the horse, once I
assumed a position on her back. I had braided three strands of what
is now called baler twine to make each rein. Also I had confiscated
two snaps from my dad’s harness repair box. Everything went so
well in my plans, but not in real life. I couldn’t catch the
mare. She would always turn away and lay back her ears. This was a
warning sign, Dad had always said. I tried and tried. We covered
every inch of the lot. Just as I thought I had her, she would break
away. I suppose I may have been seven or eight years old at the
time. I was so exasperated, I began to cry. She ran to the gate to
the lane and out to the pasture. I hung the bridle on a post and
ran to the house crying. Mother was sewing, with a mouth full of
pins. She looked up and asked what the matter was. I related the
complete incident in a rush of tears. ‘Can you help me,
Momma?’ ‘My goodness,’ she replied, ‘the world
isn’t coming to an end, stop crying!’ With that she stuck
the pins in her cushion, gathered up the excess cloth, and
proceeded to get up. ‘Go fetch me a small ear of corn.’ she

She stood at the gate with the ear of corn and called the mare,
who came nickering towards her. The mare was tempted with the corn
but pulled away. It was useless to play that game with Mother, she
had a handful of the horse’s mane, just behind the ears.
‘Give me the bridle,’ she said. Mother then proceeded to
show me how to stand by the horse’s left side, to grasp the
lower lip, and insert the bit into the horse’s mouth, all in
one quick motion. There is a strap that goes under the jaw of the
horse and the bridle is placed over the ears. ‘Now, Sonny, do
you think you can handle it from here?’ I hoped so. Mother
returned to the house and her sewing. I led the mare up to the
house yard. Surely on level ground I could jump up on her back. It
looked so easy. I had seen Brother do it once. Each time I would
try, the mare would side-step, on the ground I would fall!
Eventually, .1 raised my voice to her and led her to the front
porch. There I was up high enough to jump up on her back. I had
done it-finally!! We were off! I was so proud.

The mare had different ideas about going for a ride. I urged her
on, up the hill across the field, we went. When we reached the top
of the hill she politely said that was enough. She took the smooth
harness bit in her mouth and turned toward home.

Another problem I had was the fact that when she didn’t wish
to be ridden, she would stomp her feet. I was getting pretty well
shook up. I must have done something correct because I got her
turned away from home again. Then, with disgust, she threw up her
head, turned and began to buck. Not having a saddle I fell off
promptly. Then she stopped to wait because I had dropped the reins.
She was taught to stand when the reins were dropped. To say I was
mad would be a gross understatement. I jumped with all my might and
again regained my seat on her shoulders. Leaning forward I grasped
one rein. This immediately caused her to go around in that
direction. Eventually I grasped the other rein, dug my heels in
behind her front legs and we flew home. I would ride her every time
Dad would go away for a few hours. Eventually we became the best of
friends. I will say, I was never a good rider. On the other hand,
my brother who had broke her to ride, rides like he is part of the

I have been to several rodeos. It always seemed so inhumane the
way the bucking broncs were caused to buck. A leather strap is
placed around the horse’s flank, which is just ahead of the
hind legs. Then I noticed, after the rider has his seat, just as
the chute gate is opened, a cowboy jabs the horse in the rear with
an electric prod. I really can’t condone such treatment.

In olden days, the single man would attend church socials and
dances, either on horseback or if it could be afforded, in a shiny
red wheeled, ‘top buggy’. Boys will be boys, then the same
as now. Let us picture a strapping young gent. The dress of that
day was a black or dark grey single breasted suit. Of course,
complete with vest. The Sunday shirt was always a wonder to me.
I’ve seen’ those my dad had stored away in his ‘arched
back trunk’. The shirt was grey, a striped material oftentimes
that I would have thought better to make a cover to hold in
feathers in a pillow! In my opinion, not a pretty stripe at all.
This shirt had virtually no collar. There was a ridge of the shirt
material where a collar should be. The style of that day was to
wear a stiff celluloid collar that had a clip to hold it together
in front. This appeared to me something that would be quite
uncomfortable. That aforementioned ridge of cloth slipped inside
the collar. Then, a black bow tie with short tails was affixed to
the front of this celluloid collar. The so-called dress shirt had
large cuffs that would show completely outside the cuffs of the
jacket. On these shirt cuffs were slots in which to clip one’s
cufflinks. My father’s cufflinks were about ? inch square and
probably pure silver. The legs of the trousers were of the
‘pipe stem’ variety as some western jeans are today. The
shoes were black, very soft glove leather. To top our young
gentleman off was a Derby hat. Dad’s was very hard and black.
If it became dented it would make a popping sound when popped back

Now, let us imagine this handsome young blade astride a
beautiful bay horse with a fine saddle. My! How he would impress
the young ladies of the pie festival! Of course he had the new
‘schoolmarm’s’ welfare in mind, as all the other young
blades of that day. Rivalry was to abound. Should one young man
find favor in the new teacher’s eye, surely mischief would

One of the things of great entertainment in that day was to
place a ‘cocklebur’ under the saddle blanket of such a fine
chap’s steed. Nothing would happen until the well dressed young
hero would untie his mount, bid the young lady adieu and mount to
return to the humdrum life of the farm. The weight of the man on
the saddle pressing the thorns down against the horse’s back
could be quite painful to both. Usually the horse would seemingly
explode under the lad, with loud squeals and severe bucking. This
taking our young rider by surprise, he most generally would leave
the saddle for a most uncomfortable seat in the dust. Possibly with
his celluloid collar above one ear, and no sign of the Derby

For those not acquainted with a cocklebur, in Kansas they were
seed pods grown on a noxious weed. The pod would be about the size
of a large peanut hull. This in turn would have thorns on all sides
and ends. These thorns would become lodged in horse’s tails and
manes, and on the neck, and also in a tuft of hair just above the
hoof on some horses. This tuft of hair is called a fetlock. Since
the advent of sprays, I’ve not seen a cocklebur in years.

Should a pulling contest come up such as at the County Fair,
possibly one evil contestant would fear being beaten by a
neighbor’s fine team of horses. It would happen that the
dishonest person would slip into the barn and tie a short piece of
smooth wire just under the tuft of hair above his opponent’s
horse’s hoof, just under the fetlock. This wouldn’t show
until later. However, the horse would come up lame at the pull,
when extra stress was placed on the leg. Oftentimes it was not
discovered until after the contest.

Although no great harm would come to the horse, providing the
wire was removed immediately, the big money was gone.

It became necessary to sleep beside one’s team. Men have
been shot for just such an offense. Over the years people
haven’t changed to any great extent, it would seem.

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