I read Seamus Heaney's poem Follower today which brought to mind my memories of farming with horses. Rex and Dolly were the work horses I remember from my youth. Mostly I think of them pulling the hay rack bringing in loads of hay or carting sheaves of oats to the threshing machine or pulling the wagon down the corn rows as Dad picked corn by hand.
Heaney's poem is about ploughing with a horse, which I don't have any clear memories of though I can picture the horses pulling the sickle mower through the hay field and watching the swaths of hay lay down in passing.
My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.
An expert. He would set the wing
and fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck
Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.
I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod
I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.
I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.
In Mom's diary on September 1, 1938, she wrote: "Polly, 'our horse' took sleeping sickness this p.m. On September 11 she wrote: "Polly is lots better." Then on September 30: "Old Jack is sick. Think he'll die. (He died this evening.)" In an earlier entry she had mentioned 'Old Bird' is sick. I think Jack and Bird were also horses, but whether their's or Grandpa & Grandma Lynam's, I don't know. I expect the parents helped out the newlyweds by loaning them work horses.
Our neighbors, the Reichardt brothers, farmed with horses long after ours were sold. I could harness our pony to the buggy by myself, but only 'helped' harness the work horses - a skill long forgotten.
Heaney's poems are some of my favorites. I'm happy for the memories Follower brought back to me today.