Most of recorded human history involves the critical assistance of the horse. I am viscerally aware of this as intense summer heat swells off a loam and clay field that Lloyd Smith is seeding with his four-horse team. The 8-foot seeder is a bare-bones mechanism of gears and wheels. Wide hooves thud the ground and metal clangs against metal. Above this working harmony, the breathing of horses and the voice of the driver echo off trees at the field’s edge.
Smith is plainly thrilled to be driving. I have watched him drive his team down a steep snowy creek bank with a sled full of Christmas revelers. Somewhere, I have a handful of pictures from a day of horse logging he put in when the early spring wasn’t as wet as it has been lately. But this day is special.
“We dragged the seeder out of a swamp,” Smith says with head-shaking disbelief. “We had to tear it right down. But it works!”
The machine yard is lined with horse-drawn implements. Plough bottoms, rakes, and wagons stand in various states of restoration. The Smith farmstead is nestled into shallow coulees with well-treed surrounding hilltops. The 20-acres that are being seeded by horse are ideally scaled for the task. The furrows roll over well-worked contours and around natural obstacles that no one has seen the urgent need to remove. Farming with horses yields an agility that the industrial age can function without.
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