Workhorses Required Careful Attention

Working with horses presented unique challenges in the workhorse era


| December 2011



Farm workhorses carried the load but required unending care and feeding by farm families

Farm workhorses carried the load but required unending care and feeding by farm families.

John Klaassen says many people today have no idea how farmers working with horses had to care for them. “If you didn’t do it right,” he says, “they could die.” He saw it first-hand. As a boy, he watched his grandfather farm about 600 acres with horses. “You had to go out during the winter and water those horses seven days a week, morning, noon and evening, and feed them grain, preparing them for spring field work.” 

In spring and fall, when horses were worked heavily in the field, they were managed as carefully as if they were people. “During a hot summer day on the binder, you’d start early in the morning, and work until it got so very, very hot and muggy and sultry,” John says. “Then, at about 2 p.m., you stopped and took them home into the barn and let them rest until 5-5:30 when it got a little cooler. Then you went back out again and drove them until near dark, but not after dark, because there were no lights on horses. If you had any mercy at all for your horses, you let them rest during the very extreme hot part of the day, or they would die from exhaustion.”

With other field work, when the horses tired the farmer would rest them at the end of the field for 45 minutes or so before returning to work. “It’s the same as if you dig a hole with a spade,” John says. “You can only work so long before you need to rest and take a breather.” FC