Harry’s a chestnut colored 26-year-old draft horse, the breed a Suffolk Punch. A veteran logging horse the gentle giant has a reputation for being a “good doer.”
Before work, a logging horse will eat about 40 lbs. of hay and another 8 lbs. of grain. Routine between the logger and his horse is soothing. Work is what the animal has been bred for, temperament is selected by breeders, a big hot draft animal is not suited to this type of team partnership.
Veteran horse loggers know what trees to harvest, what terrain is best, how long a distance they can skid a log out from where it is cut, and when their animal has reached its limit for the day. A fit and ready for work Suffolk Punch can skid a log near twice its own weight, skidding is best done on the flat. Horse loggers pull logs either along or on a slight downslope avoiding terrain that might force their animal to haul a log up a steep hillside.
In the American West harvestable saw logs will be found on private land. Would be a wise project for Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service and Department of Agriculture to streamline their regulatory framework and open up our public lands for horse logging.
One business model for horse logging includes bringing a portable saw mill out to where trees are harvested. Then, instead of incurring the cost of having the timber hauled off by logging trucks the horse logger can instead do the value-added piece of the job milling his harvest on site, then selling the product direct to ready buyers.
Harry will be watered several times during the day. While milling is performed the work animal will be set out to graze and given free choice access to salt and water.
A horse logger hired for thinning and culling timber from private land has many benefits. Understory isn’t ripped up same as it would be had the work been done with harvesting equipment. Skidding logs, opening the canopy, providing trees with more room for light and water encourages forest health and speeds growth.
Let’s plan on a sustainable harvest. If you have trees that reach maturity in one hundred years, then a horse logger can plan on taking one mature tree out of one hundred trees off one acre at a rate of one per year. Might be that the horse logger comes in and takes a dozen white fir then doesn’t touch this piece for another twelve years.
Done at horse logging scale, not clear cutting, instead with an eye on helping the working man and his horse to help cull the forest, strengthen its diversity, making room for a true mix of trees and understory shrubs and brushes, reducing the chance of catastrophic wildfire, making the forest more resilient to the forces of drought and downpours, would be a win-win proposition.
At the end of a long day Harry’s harness is removed, breastplate is pulled off its chest over his head and removed. The logger brushes his companion down, slow talks with his partner, whispers to assure, same as he has year in and year out, the end of the day one on one makes for a contented draft horse. The logger checks Harry’s special workhorse shoes, for added traction the animal is shod with caulks on both toe and heel, the logger will be certain his hoofs are clean, there are no stones or pebbles that could irritate.
Harry’s help skid out of the woods perhaps as many as 30 trees. Might be more harvesting tomorrow, maybe the portable mill will get fired up, fence posts, rails, and boards cut, stacked readied for marketing.
You’ll do yourself a service next opportunity you have to attend a county fair, after the pandemic comes under control, and pick a fair that features a horse barn, give yourself some time, visit a fair that features draft horses, spend the afternoon, slow walk, feel your way into the presence of one of man’s most successful animal partnerships, talk to the men and women that care for the animals. Some will be trained to pull wagons, others to plow fields, and then there are the animals that have been trained for logging. You’ll be standing in the presence of an easy keeper and a good doer, that is near all a horse logger wants out of his partner, near all he wants and dreams for.