Driving Draft Horses: One Week Behind the Plow

Terry Krautwurst visited Slack Point Ranch School in Montana to learn all about driving draft horses.

| January/February 1985

 Last May, MOTHER sent Frank Sides (one of our Eco-Village gardeners and the caretaker of Molly, the magazine's work pony) and associate editor Terry Krautwurst to Polson, Mont., to take a one-week course on driving draft horses and farming with draft horses. The following excerpts from Terry's journal provide some firsthand insights into a not-easy-to-learn homestead skill and the "do-it-yourselfer's jitters," as well!    


I have to laugh when I think how my grandfather might have reacted to the notion of traveling 2,000 miles by jet just to learn about driving draft horses. Surely Grandpa, who never did ride in an airplane but who undoubtedly spent much of his life behind a plow horse, would have been amused. But, of course, times have changed since Gramps, like all farm boys of his day, learned how to work a draft animal by helping his own father. There just aren't as many farmers around these days who still practice the art, and those who do are generally far too busy coaxing a living from their farms to stop long enough to show a greenhorn the basics.

In recent years, though, a resurgence of interest in farming with draft horses has spawned a handful of clinics, workshops and schools devoted to providing expert introductory instruction. Frank Sides and I have come to one such place: the Slack Point Ranch School of Driving and Farming With Draft Horses, in Poison, Mont.

Frank and I arrived in Poison late this afternoon, and after spending an hour or so reconnoitering this pleasant community of ranchers and loggers, drove to Slack Point Ranch, a mile or so outside of town. The place is sheer beauty: 550 acres of green, rolling valley land, located smack-dab on the south shore of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. A few miles to the east are the snow-covered peaks of the Mission Range, and the Swan Range rises above the horizon to the north. Russet red outbuildings and barns punctuate the ranch's neatly fenced pastures. Off in the distance we could see a pair of honey-colored Belgian horses grazing. Even from afar they look big. (All in all, I'm told, there are nearly 90 purebred Belgians here, and some 300 registered shorthorn cattle. This is a working ranch, almost entirely horse-powered.)

We were greeted at the bunkhouse — a typical-looking, single-level suburban home — by Mary, the ranch's affable cook. Over the next couple of hours, five more students arrived for the week's class: Buck, a spot welder from Minnesota; Doug and Vicki, a couple from Chicago (he's a real estate broker and she's a dental hygienist); Wendy, a young farm worker from Oregon; and Art, a computer software company president from the Los Angeles area.

We're a diverse group, certainly, but almost everyone here shares longtime involvement with horses (alas, I'm the lone exception). Some students, like Frank, have had experience with workhorses and have come here to pick up additional skills. The others are familiar with riding horses, but not with draft animals (the difference being akin to that between an MG and a GMC).

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