Category Archives: Farm Chores

Slip Scraper and Three Abreast

After a week of rain we were blessed with a wonderful weekend of clear weather. Harley and I wanted to take advantage of that, so on Saturday we harnessed Tom and Charlie. They are half brother Belgians, 8 years old. They worked one season on an Amish farm before Harley bought them as 6 year-olds off the English farm where they had not worked at all since the Amish training. Harley uses them to make hay on his farm. They are a very experienced confident team of horses.

After moving a wagon out of the crib, we hitched to the slip scraper to take some compost up to the house. This device could be called a horse-drawn scoop or drag scraper. Steve Wood tells me that this device was used to build roads in the earlier days. Folks would turn out with their horses and scrapers and work together to build roads in their area. The Fresno scrapers were similar, but pulled by a multiple of horses.

So back to our compost moving project: Two horses easily pulled the scraper up to the house. It is tight quarters around the raised flower beds, so we wanted to do this with just one horse. We thought Tom would be good to go with this single project as he is the more forward horse in the team. He surprised us both by not wanting to go forward even when I was out in front with the lead rope. We tried ground driving him on the flat by the barn but decided that we would need to spend much more time driving single before we ask him to pull the slip scraper.

Next it was Charlie’s turn to ground drive single. We put the single lines on him and asked him to walk forward into our flat area. He surprised us by willingly moving out without my help. Both Harley and I were pleased with his confidence. He was comfortable with the slip scraper too.

The approach to the house is steep but Charlie did a great job for us. He pulled the slip scraper up without hesitation and was steady when we dumped the load. He stood quietly for us while we flipped the scraper back.

On the way back to the compost pile we found that a little of the lift the handle would pick up a load of fresh manure to add to the compost pile. I have seen these slip scrapers before but never in use. It was great fun learning something new to use with our horses. What a great piece of equipment to move dirt, gravel or manure, plus giving a horse a job that is not too tasking.>

The next day was also great for doing horsey things. Harley wanted to drive three abreast, so we put Tom on the right, Charlie on the left and Babe in the middle. Babe is a four year old Belgian trained by Steve Wood. Harley used a butt rope around all three horses.

We ground drove them first just to be safe. Babe was very comfortable with the two other horses and did as we asked so we felt comfortable putting them to a heavy stone boat.

With Tom’s leadership they swung around easily to their position in front of the stone boat. Starting off slowly and together we headed down the lane to the south hayfield.

What a joy it was to see them work evenly to pull this stone boat.

We were surprised by a fallen tree blocking the lane. The road was too narrow to turn the horses around so Harley stopped the horses and we tied Tom to a tree. I stood in front of Babe and Charlie while Harley walked back to the barn to get the chain saw.

I really enjoy making every experience a learning experience for the horses. Babe was very relaxed during our wait. She fussed a little with her head, trying to rub the other horses but she was very cooperative when I corrected her. While Harley was running the chain saw, she watched but was not frightened with the noise. She has had some experience working in the woods while in training with Steve Wood.

Once the roadway was cleared we circled the hayfield a few times. We had put the best rope halter on Babe with the longest lead rope. But I also wanted a long lead rope on Charlie who was on the left side. If I had a problem with Babe, I could easily move it to her halter and have control rather than trying to untie her lead rope from her hame. I felt doing that could put me in an unsafe position. Things were going well so I left it on Charlie.
The horses had a reasonable workout going around the field.

I had a great time driving them back to the barn. Both Harley and I were thrilled with the way the horses pulled together and worked as a team. We are going to enjoy doing more of this during the winter months. Driving three is a great way to get more horses in condition for next summer’s work.

Mix and Match- new learning from the veterans

This past weekend Harley and I had a great time working with the horses. During the summer Tom and Charlie have been his reliable veteran team that helped with making hay. We just didn’t have time to experiment with his other two horses. But this weekend we first ground drove Babe with Tom and then put them to the sled. Having an extra person on the ground that can help Babe understand her task is extremely important.

We drove around the yard for a bit and then things were going smoothly so we headed down the trail to the hay field. I stayed on the ground ahead of the team, one to open gates and two to be there for Babe, if she was hesitant. Babe has been through training, but it has been awhile and we didn’t want to assume anything so we started with the ground driving which she accepted, so we put her to the sled.


We thought that she would be ready for a test of helping Tom take a load of firewood up to the house. We did not overload the sled with wood as it is a bit of a climb up to the house. I was on the ground with her lead rope in hand as I had to encourage her to help Tom get the sled up the hill. She stood quietly while Harley unloaded the wood. I stood at her head and praised her. We took another load up to the house and thought it was a good day for Babe.

Next we ground drove Charlie with Shorty. Shorty is seven and has done field work a few years ago. He has a very short tail and is not as big as the other horses. He can be excited at times and we thought Charlie’s laid back personality would have a steadying effect on him.

The ground driving went well and we put them to the sled. Our goal with them was to haul a few large rocks into the front yard to finish a landscaping project. The pair took the sled up the road to the house and stood quietly while Harley unloaded the rocks. I was at their heads making sure they stood. Shorty did really well and remembered his job in the team.

Sunday it was dry enough that we could start mowing Harley’s last hay field. We put Shorty with Tom. Tom is on the right as he handles the turning extremely well. Shorty is smaller, but energetic and kept a better pace and helped Tom more than Charlie does.

Harley was pretty excited to have a more forward PAIR of horses on the mower.

Since Shorty does not have the condition on him, I caught Charlie and we put him with Tom to finish the rest of the field. It just doesn’t help to overtax a horse that is not fit. You must take it slow and build him up. It was a warm day too.


Monday came and Harley put Babe with Tom to ted the hay. It is easy work and she did okay. With more experience she will do the turning better and have better condition. She didn’t mind the tedder behind her either.

Recently Harley switched Tom and Charlie by putting Tom on the left and Charlie on the right. It helps them to think and hopefully develop their muscles more evenly. We are excited with the flexibility to use all four horses for different jobs and in different positions. So this fall and winter we will have fun mixing and matching horses and driving them to keep and get some condition on them. We want to work three abreast also. With another year of experience behind them, we could even think about putting a four up together. Wouldn’t that be a grand time!!!

Spring:Time to ease into work

From Theresa Burns:
This past weekend the weather was great for getting some manure hauled with the horses. Harley used his veteran team Tom and Charlie with one load on Wednesday and with two loads on Thursday.

I was there to help him on Friday. We took one load out and it is about a mile to the field and the road has a couple of hills on it. Harley asked the horses to stop on the crest of a hill on a flat spot so the horses would not need to hold the load.
They stood quietly and we could see that the respiration rates of the horses was quick and shallow. To see respiration watch in the flank area and you can see the in and out of the flank as the horse breathes. Not sure how long we stood there, but waited until the respiration rate slowed. We rested the horses again once we were in the field as we had some grades to pull up and down and we had full load of manure.

Once we got back to the barn and parked the spreader, we unhooked the horses and tied them to a post while we loaded the second load of manure. It is a tight area and thought it would be safer to not have the horses so close to the skid steer. Before we took this load out we offered the horses some water. They drank. Harley asked about them drinking water with the bit in their mouths. Horses will figure that out and it is better to offer water than to skip it.
So Saturday we went for a six mile tour with Harley’s Prairie Schooner along the Raccoon River Valley. The wagon weighs about 1600 pounds with us it using the same pair. I was in charge of applying the brake on the downgrades to make it easier for the horses. Here again we would stop after the horses had climbed a hill to let them breath. I could apply the brake so parking on the level was not as critical.

Tom is the more aggressive puller of the two horses and he seemed a bit upset with some of the noises of the wagon or brake and external noises. We need to work on some of that desensitization and refer back to Walt’s blog entry on January 12 about noises.

As we headed back to the farm, we had a very long grade. The question was do we let them rest half way up and will they be able to start the wagon again or do we wait until we have arrived at the top of the grade. We thought it would be safer and easier for them to continue to the top.

All the decisions that we make as we work horses depends on their attitude at that time and if they are acting normally and not over tired or stressed. The more you drive horses the more you know them. With ay to day work you get a good sense of what that horse can handle, because of how he handled previous work. But if you have not done the day to day progress then you should be more conservative. I would rather say at the end of the day that the horses did their work well than have to say I have pushed them too hard today.

For me each outing with the horses is an experience to learn from as you are always making decisions and always need to be paying attention and driving the horses. Driving in that you have rein contact and they know you are the leader. It is your responsibility to be aware of their physical and mental boundaries for that day and to build on those and improve.

It was a beautiful tour to see the trees and the forest floor and to see the river valley. Once we arrived back at the barn and unharnessed, we loaded both of the horses in the trailer and fed them hay. They need to get accustomed to the new trailer and the loading and unloading process. You can do that in small steps weeks before you want to haul them which will make the trailering a good experience for them.
What always assures me that the horses took the day okay is the fact that they are hungry and ate the hay aggressively at the barn. The more you work with them the more you know what is normal and what is not normal.

With the way Tom was acting on Saturday, Harley thought it would be a good idea to drive on Sunday also. We took a shorter ride that was less challenging. Tom seemed more settled and it was more relaxing for him. Harley and I talked about our weekend and the good points and the things we want to work on with the horses. We are looking forward to our future days with the team whether it is a tour with the wagon or some type of field work.