The appetite for technology seems insatiable in today's world. Cell phones and laptops, though, don't define every life. Increasing numbers of people are choosing a different rhythm, a fact underscored by the growing population of people who've taken up farming with horses.
Some of today's horse farmers are fueled by nostalgia. They enjoy horses; they're interested in antique farm implements. Others are driven by personal conviction. Whatever the motivation, if you're a newcomer to horse farming, two recently released books - Implements for Farming with Horses & Mules, and Farming with Horses - are required reading.
Implements for Farming with Horses & Mules, by Farm Collector columnist Sam Moore, is a comprehensive education on the use of just about every horse-drawn farm implement ever produced. Using clear, deliberate text, countless color photographs and dozens of detailed drawings, Sam carefully and thoroughly explains the history and evolution of each category of implements, the science behind various farm practices, and machinery features, operation, adjustment and maintenance. For the novice, his checklists of common problems are an invaluable resource.
If the internal combustion engine had never been invented, this kind of knowledge would be commonplace today. Tractors and mechanized implements, though, quickly made horse farming - and the ages of wisdom supporting it - obsolete. Raised on a Pennsylvania farm, Sam clearly paid attention to the lessons of his youth. Although he left the farm after completing high school, as his publisher notes, Sam remained interested in farming and farm machinery. He has restored a number of farm implements and at one time or another has used virtually every implement featured in the book.
All of which means that Implements for Farming with Horses & Mules is packed with solid, practical information. Those looking for the easy way out will probably be happier with Horse Farming for Dummies. Sam, on the other hand, is a firm believer in Doing Things Right. On the proper use of a check planter, for instance: "A poorly checked field can't be hidden. From the time the corn plants break through the ground until well into July, the field is a public demonstration of how much care was taken in laying out the wire and adjusting the planter."
An extension of that theme is his unrelenting insistence on preventive maintenance. Simple but thorough maintenance directives accompany each implement category. It seems unlikely that Sam has ever experienced mechanical failure resulting from failure to properly adjust or maintain a piece of equipment. If he has, it's a safe bet he never made the same mistake twice!
Sam's actual, hands-on experience with the equipment he describes is priceless to the novice. He coaches the beginner through turning corners with a mower, installing canvases on grain binders and following the intricacies of the tying cycle on a small square baler. These are nearly lost arts, but he breaks them down to a series of logical steps.
If, as the saying goes, experience is the mother of knowledge, Sam has had more than enough experience to appreciate the vital importance of safety on the farm. Each chapter of the book has multiple and often redundant safety advisories. Before raising and securing the cutter bar of a PTO mower in the transport position, for instance, he directs the driver to "disengage the engine clutch, shut off the engine, and put the key in your pocket."
Whether you're considering hitching a team to an implement, or just interested in an era of farming long since past, Implements for Farming with Horses & Mules offers a wealth of knowledge unavailable anywhere else. If you've been trying to figure out how to adjust an antique mower or operate a vintage grain binder, you know there are no toll-free numbers to call for help and no help desk staff waiting to take your questions. This book will fast become your best reference.
Implements for Farming with Horses & Mules: A Modern All-in-One Manual, by Sam Moore, published by Rural Heritage. ISBN-13: 978-1-893707-10-8. Paperback, 276 pages, color and black-and-white photos and illustrations, $38. Available through Farm Collector Books.
Where Sam's book focuses on the equipment and makes only occasional references to the animals doing the pulling, Farming with Horses concentrates with equal vigor on horses and does not concern itself with what follows, that is, equipment. But the instruction on maximizing horse power through proper practices and careful consideration of the animals themselves is comprehensive, well reasoned and beautifully presented.
If seeing is believing, this lavishly illustrated book will make a believer out of you. Every page is packed with professionally composed color photographs illustrating every point of instruction. How-to books routinely contain illustrations and photographs that are nearly impossible to make sense of. But the illustrations and photography in this book are so perfectly designed and executed that they make learning effortless. And they're backed up by knowledge and experience. Bowers, a well-known horse training clinician and author, not only explains what to do, but why and how.
Topics include harness functions, collars and their use, hitching considerations, lateral and longitudinal alignment, rein grips and equipment quality. The book concludes with an interesting and informative discussion on getting and keeping the right horses, and the author's argument for open bridles. Very useful information, and well presented. If you're considering farming with horses, spend some time studying up with this book.
Farming with Horses, by Steve Bowers and Marlen Steward, published by Voyageur Press/MBI Publishing Co. ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-2313-7. Paperback, 160 pages, color photographs, $21.95.
Other titles you might enjoy:
For collectors of stationary gas engines, C.H. Wendel's tome American Gasoline Engines since 1872 is widely considered the bible of the hobby. The original release, in 1983, was hefty enough to use as a doorstop. Clad in a yellow cover with printing in red foil, the book is commonly referred to throughout the hobby as the BYB (big yellow book).
Since then, more information on additional engines and manufacturers became available, and the maestro obliged, producing a second BYB (a companion piece to the first book) this spring. At the same time, Volume 1 has been reprinted. New members of the engine fraternity now have opportunity to build their reference libraries on a solid foundation of Wendel, and seasoned collectors will welcome the opportunity to add Volume 2 to their shelves.
American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, Volumes 1 and 2, by C.H. Wendel, privately published. Volume 1, 584 pages, black-and-white photos and illustrations. Volume 2, 416 pages, black-and-white photos and illustrations.
If you sometimes struggle with the evolution of various tractor makes and models, Classic Tractors will set you straight. This new book from Publications International, Ltd. traces a timeline that begins with giants in steam in the 1890s, moves on to development of gas tractors in the early years of the last century, and finishes with the technological advancements of the 1960s. Look for brief histories of leading manufacturers, details on individual models, handsome full color photography and vintage promotional pieces. A solid reference work for any collection.
Classic Tractors, published by Publications International, Ltd. ISBN: 1-4127-1223-8. Hardback, 320 pages, color photography/black-and-white and color illustrations.