by Ralph Rice
I started logging in February of 1991.When late spring came and mud
was everywhere, I realized how tired my horses must get. At the end of the day
my own butt dragged, and they were the ones hauling the logs.Ralph Rice
writes regularly for Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the
Some of the teamsters I worked with used two teams, working one team one day and
the other the next. Lacking the money for two teams, I convinced myself that all
I needed was three horses, which enabled me to give each horse a day off every
other day. I was sure I would be able to haul more logs with fresher horses.
I talked this decision over with my wife and we decided that if we could
find a horse in our price range we would get a third one. So I went in search of
a horse. I found several great candidates, but all were out of reach for our
finances, except oneHillbilly Jack. The black Percheron was a quiet
willing worker, and he was cheap. My near horse Bob measured 17.2 hands and I
was sure Jack would be a good fit. So I brought him home.
was a long and lanky horse, thin yet well muscled. His height was impressive. At
18.2 hands he stood a full hand taller than Bob. He was the highest-headed horse
I had ever bridled. He could lift his head so high I couldn't reach his nose, a
maneuver that delighted him. Otherwise he did everything he was told, which
turned out to be a good thing, because Jack was dumb. Maybe dumb is a bit
incorrect~lackadaisical fit him better. Let's just say Jack put the lolly into
One day, out of shear boredom, he banged his head
against the wall until he knocked several siding boards off the barn. Once he
had created this window he watched the cars go by on the road. When he worked,
he plodded along and looked at everything in a sleepy sort of way.
When he worked with my off horse Dolly, a much shorter-legged horse than Jack,
he just eased along taking about one step to every two of hers. He kept the
eveners tight and even. He did not shirk his duties. He paced himself, based on
whichever horse he was working with.
One uneventful day I was
working with Jack and Bob. On the last load, while the horses rested and Jack
did his usual bird watching, I told the boys all we had left to do was haul this
last load of logs to the landing. Once they were unhooked we'd be done for the
day and could head for home.
I tightened up the lines and asked
them to get up. As they started the load I could almost hear Jack say to
himself, "Duh, left then right, keep the traces tight." He was
glancing around trying to find something to look at. I guided them to the
landing and near the log pile.
Bob, being ever watchful, tried to keep Jack going in the right
direction. He would nudge Jack over on right turns and sort of drag him along on
left turns. As we pulled up next to the harvested logs on my right side, Bob
thought Jack was too far from the pile. He bumped into the daydreaming Jack to
push him to the right, catching the dreamer off guard. Jack tried to move over,
but got tripped by a log. He caught the log at about knee level, fell over it,
and landed on his back, cradled neatly between two logs with his feet sticking
in the air.
The scene would have been downright funny except
that Jack was still harnessed to Bob, the horses were still hooked to the log
cart, and the logs were still hooked behind the cart. My mouth froze into a
large "O" of amazement while my heart pounded with fear. I was glad
help was close by, and since that day I have not entered the woods alone with my
chainsaw or horses.
The teamsters I worked with helped me get the horses unharnessed
and unhooked. We rolled the log away to free the upside-down Jack. He rolled
onto his side and lay perfectly still. I thought I had killed him. I went to his
head to search for signs of life, only to find the sleepy-eyed Jack resting and
looking for birds. I told him to get up. Obediently he rose to his feet with a
little groan, then shook himself all over. He looked at me searchingly, as if
asking why I had done that to him. All of us, men and horses, gave a big sigh of
relief and then started the laughter that echoes still today.