We had a number of horses on the farm when I was a boy.Most were work horses but we had one thoroughbred,a road horse and a great riding horse.We called him Prince.He had a shiny brown coat and there was a white star on his forehead.I was riding horses when I was five but it was years before I was allowed to ride Prince.Then I had to be able to stay on his back riding bareback before dad would let me ride him with a saddle.This was our favourite horse to ride for getting the cows each night and bringing them to the barn for milking.Prince could even sidle up to a gate so that we could open it off his back,then he would side step with the gate until it was fully open.Then after the cows had gone through we could close the gate again off horseback.Prince liked to run and gallop,you would be going so fast it even made your eyes water.He had one bad habit.He always seemed to think when you turned him around that it was time to go back to the barn.He would take off at top speed and you had to duck your head as you went quickly through the stable door.
We had five horse stalls in our barn and one box stall.The horse stable was the first part of the barn you entered,then you went through to the cow stable.I will try to tell you the names of the horses we had and a little about them.
Barny and Dobbin were two work horses dad brought back from Saskatchewan when they came back to Ontario in 1930.At age 24 he had married mom and they had gone west to start farming on a quarter section of land.They stayed for six years.All the work out there was done by horses and it sounded exciting to me to hear them tell of driving four and six horse teams.The stories of the dirty 30’s and the hardships trying to make a living on a farm in Saskatchewan showed that mom and dad were always glad they had made the decision to return to Ontario.Of course farming in the depression years no one was making any money.They told stories of selling hogs after raising them from little piglets and feeding them until they were market weight for only five dollars a piece.Dad loaded his horses and farm machinery onto the train and had them shipped to Ontario.In 1932 he bought his father’s farm.
Dobbin was a black Percheron and a very gentle horse.He was good with children.It was hard to get up on his back.I remember climbing into his manger,walking across the top of it,getting a good hold of his mane,then pulling myself up on his back.Some times we had rope reins and sometimes we had leather reins.We stood on the manger too to put the bridle on the horse.Often we would lead the horse by the reins out the stable door and close up to a rail fence and jump from the top rail onto the horse’s back.
Barny was a brown Percheron but he was bigger than Dobbin.He was always used on the stone boat to clean the manure out from behind the cows and pull it to the manure pile.Dobbin and Barny made a good team and they worked well together a lot.They pulled the hay wagon and they pulled the mower to cut the hay.They lived to a good old age.Dobbin was over 30 when he died.He always reminded me of the horse in Black Beauty.
Floss was another Belgian mare we had. She was a big black horse with a very broad back and your legs stuck away out to the sides when you rode her.She was gentle and walked with a limp.I used to ride on her back when she was hooked to the scuffler and mother and I would scuffle the garden. Floss had a colt we called Pixie.She was a pretty black mare and full of life.She wanted her own way too.When she was a two year old and we were breaking her and training her to drive on the bob sleigh in the winter time,the milk truck came up behind us on the road and scared her.The team took off running and one of the reins broke.The horses got away on us and ran for half a mile down the road.Ever after that Pixie would try to run on us when a car or truck came up behind us.Pixie made a good saddle horse and we had lots of great rides on her.As I said she wanted her own way, sometimes she refused to do what she was told.One time we were pulling a load of hay through the ditch,she stopped in the middle and wouldn’t move.We had to unhitch the team and hook another team onto the wagon to pull the load out of the water. Dad got tired of Pixie’s balkyness and decided he was going to sell her.He traded her on a new one-way disc or plough.She was put in a field by a train track.One day when the train came by and blew its whistle Pixie jumped the fence and ran three miles down the track in front of the train.That was the last we heard about Pixie.
Molly was another work horse we had, a Clydesdale I think ,but not a very big one.She was brown and white a sort of roan colour.Molly was the horse we used most in the winter to take us to school.I would usually ride on the horse’s back and my sister and the neighbour’s daughter rode on a large handsleigh which was hooked onto the thirty foot rope tugs attached to Molly’s harness.We filled a sack full of hay and placed it on the sleigh and the girls sat on top of the sack.When we got to our rural one room school two miles away we put the horse in the neighbour’s barn and put the hay in the manger.The other children always wanted a ride on our sleigh.
Molly raised a colt for us.We called her Bonnie she was a big brown gentle mare.Molly and Bonnie made a good team on the hay wagon,the side rake,and the harvest wagons.
The last horse we had in the 1960’s we called Ruth.She was a big heavy Clydesdale,brown in colour with a lovely long mane.She was the biggest and tallest horse we ever had and the only horse we had at that time.We didn’t have much work for her to do either.She would clean out the stables with the stone boat. At Christmas time I would put bells on her,fill the stone boat up with clean fresh straw and give all the children on our rural line living near us a ride behind the horse with the sleigh bells ringing.
Such are the memories of the horses on our farm when I was growing up.