It’s cold enough outside that those lacking facial hair can feel the sting of “fresh” air on their cheeks like needles pricking a finger. Mornings with a new layer of powder seem still, snow crunches under pac boots and the dog’s excited romping is louder than usual. It used to be that the cowboy or rancher would head towards the wrangle pen instead of the machinery shed, catch and harness the gentle (hopefully) giants and begin the chore of feeding cattle with a team. Today, more often than not, early morning silence is broken by the sounds of a tractor coughing to life and the skill of feeding with a team is now a dying art.
Feeding with a team is a lot of work. Instead of climbing into a tractor cab and turning a key, horses must be caught, harnessed and hitched. Hay must be loaded, fed and then the process is reversed when the team is unhitched and put away. Cold air can make the most broke horse act green and even a “small” wreck can result in hours of wasted time, destroyed fences and of course, possible decapitation for the person feeding/driving.
There are some folks left that still use horses instead of machinery though, and necessity seems to be the driving force behind that decision. Husband/wife team Trevor and Emily Fuhriman are such a pair and cowboy together out of Grouse Creek, Utah. They started using a team because their tractor and equipment were on their last leg and replacing all of the machinery needed wasn’t a possibility. Thankfully, both are handy with horses and according to Emily, getting the day’s work completed while working their teams provides a pleasing challenge. “We love it. In our mind, hooking our teams to feed is getting our feeding AND our training done for the day. Our big horses can earn their dinner and become more valuable to sell in the future.”
|Photo by Emily Fuhriman|
Becky and Rolly Lisle are another cowboy couple whose decision to use a team to feed instead of a tractor, was made for them by charming Mother Nature herself. Their first married winter was spent snowed into remote Charleston, NV, a place not known for its mild weather. “The winters that we spent in Charleston, we had to use a team because the snow was too deep for pick-ups to get the job done, and we didn’t have a good tractor.” 30F below and four feet of snow is an excellent recipe for getting a team stuck, something Becky experienced first hand. “I actually managed to get the team stuck, but we just had to unhook them from the sleigh and take them around to the back and hook them to pull it out. There’s no motorized vehicle that can get itself unstuck like that.”
|Photo by Becky Lisle|
Obviously, utilizing actual horsepower instead of an engine is hard work. But for those who continue to use their teams, the rewards are worth it all. “It is a dying art.” Says Emily. “Not many people know how to harness and hook a team and get them broke enough to work. We love being able to use our horses like they used to in the past. Basically that’s why we continue to use them.”
Before you decide that the romance of gentle giant’s hooves stomping out a rhythm in packed snow and the jingle of harnesses is actually a siren call to your heart and you run out and buy a team, remember a few things. Using a team can be one of the most dangerous things you do with horses. If and when you get in a wreck, not only do you have to worry about the safety of your animals and equipment, but there’s always the possibility of getting run over by your own wagon pulled by your own horses. Which just adds insult to injury. Be ready for a serious commitment and learn the ins and outs from someone who knows what they’re doing.
*First published in The Nevada Rancher. Like them on Facebook or call (866) 644-5011 for a free copy.