Blog Anna: From making hay to inspection training

Some things never change; you will always need sun to make good horse hay. When we moved to PEI, Canada in 1992, it was mid-June and the cows (all 35 of them) were pastured in knee high timothy grass. As PEI tradition had it, July 1st or there abouts the farmers started to cut for hay. And so did we. For the 29 years we have lived here, we have always been able to make hay in July. Not this year. In contrary to the record dry spells and devastating forest fires in western Canada, we are experiencing a wetter, more humid summer than usual. We are grateful however for these great growing conditions. It’s August and we still have to finish our fist cut of hay. We only make hay for the horses and calves now. For the (give or take 200) dairy cows we switched to roundbale silage soon after we moved here.

The way hay is made has changed a lot however

This brings me back to days gone by; when my grandfather would do all his farm work with Friesians. Pake Bouma was a dairy farmer from 1942-1978. For as long as he farmed, he refused to get a tractor in the yard. There were around 20 purebred Friesian horses at the farm. For daily work 10 horses were needed. Each year an average of 4 foals were born. Some of the young ones were kept for later use and some were sold. This was during the time that the mechanization started. So work horses were in serious decline. At a certain time the stud fee was higher than the price of a healthy foal. Needless to say that it were though times for the Friesians.

Horses: lifeblood of the farm

My grandfather was dedicated to the breed. He loved working with them. He said his horses were the lifeblood of the farm. The work and outings with his horses was at the same time his hobby. My grandparents participated many a year at the Boerebrulloft in Joure, an authentic wedding feast with ringriding. They would also take the Friesians to competitions like show trotting (Tugen) and speed trotting on ice in front of a sleigh. With a mare named Rimkje ster many prizes were won. Pake did what he could to promote the Friesian horse and its versatility in a very difficult time for the breed. During the late 60’s he was the biggest breeder on record with the KFPS.

Back to making hay. The broodmares would work the fields just as well as the odd gelding. And the foals, they would come along. Every day was a take your kid to work day! For cutting grass a team of (two)horses were used in the morning and then another ‘fresh’ pair for the afternoon. One horse was designated for the milk wagon. A gelding named Raven and later Nachtegaal ster pref (Hylke 186 x Aize 170). The horses had their own jobs, as one would be more suitable for raking and the other for tedding for example. This was because of their different temperaments. Cutting, tedding and raking. Dragging the hay in piles, all done with a team of horses. After that the loose hay was forked by hand the loose hay by hand on a flat bottom wagon, or as in the picture below, by using a wheel driven fork loader behind the wagon. This made for heavy pulling for the horses so 3 horses abreast were needed. Then driving it into the barn, where the wagon got unloaded by forking the hay in a hay blower, who would blow the loose hay into the loft.

Picture above from Dutch farming magazine De Boerderij issued September 12th 1979 (taken in 1966). My dad is staking the hay and my grandfather is driving the horses.

When the horses were worked like that in the fields, they were naturally in shape for the inspection. They might be a bit brown from working in the sun, but they certainly were fit! And so were the foals, tagging along with mom to work and playing in the field while mom worked.

Training in the water

My mares are certainly not working that hard! And my foal does not have to walk beside mom to the field for a day’s work. Thus I have to train them to get in shape for the inspection. Which of course I enjoy! You might say it’s in my blood. For my mare, part of her training includes taking her to the beach to trot in the water, a good and fun way to condition her. As far as working with the foal, it is always good to teach them to stand, lead, walk and trot beside mom. The last part you can practice all you want, and it will certainly help. But there are never any guarantees how your foal will perform that day. At least we are well prepared!

Wiecke fan de Greidpleats (Tsjalle 454 X Maeije 440)

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