Draft Horses Work

Draft Horses Work

Draft Horses Work perhaps there is no element of successful horse-management that requires more careful attention than the arrangement of the work of a young horse just purchased from a farmer for town purposes.

It must be conceded that the entire change of food, stabling, work, and general treatment, and surroundings renders this period one of the most critical of the animal’s existence, and one when the greatest watchfulness and care are required from his attendant; he may. be plump, gay, blooming, and in fair working condition, and perform a full day’s work at once to his new master’s entire satisfaction, but on the morrow, he will most probably come out stiff, and sore, and dull.

An indiscreet horse keeper thinks all these conditions are of little importance, and that a continuance at the same labor will remove them; but this is rarely ever so. If an equally severe exertion is re-exacted for several succeeding days the appetite diminishes, the horse loses flesh, and should no acute disease supervene, he will certainly gradually become unfitted for work, and must be entirely rested or his labor eased, the probable result being that he will never regain his natural standard of vigor and strength.

By gradually insuring him, on the other hand, to his new occupation, increasing it in severity from week to week, the horse will acquire greater capability for endurance and strength than he ever before possessed.

It is a matter of surprise how widely practical men differ in opinion upon the amount of work a horse of average strength can perform. Such diversity is attributable to several causes. Firstly. No equally important subject appertaining to the management of draft-horses seems to have gotten so little attention from farmers and team-owners.

Secondly. Hastily formed and dogmatically expressed opinions are often based solely upon the quantity of work that can be accomplished under one set of conditions, no latitude being allowed for the numerous circumstances which may and do entirely alter results.

Thirdly. When the subject of horse-work forms the theme of discussion, the general tendency is to relate instances of the possession of more than ordinary powers of endurance possessed by certain animals, the result of whose capabilities may be invariably taken as exceptions rather than examples of what should constitute a fair day’s work.

Fourthly. Work is estimated sometimes by the number of hours employed, often by the distance travelled ; and again by the weight transported, or the resistance overcome : the two latter items only should be considered, but they must be taken collectively when an estimate is made—the time occupied in the work, as will be subsequently shown, is to be regarded as an influencing condition, and one of the utmost importance.

The circumstances which conduce to variations in the results of horse-work are so numerous that it is impracticable to deal with them in detail; they will, however, become evident to every experienced owner when his individual requirements are reviewed.

< It’s the pace that kills is the proverb of the hunting man, race-horse owner, and four-in-hand coachman, and although not so considered, the aphorism is equally applicable to farm and road teams. It may be accepted as a fact that in proportion as pace is increased, so must the hours of labor and the weight to be moved be decreased. From tables of calculation founded upon experiment it has been ascertained that the greatest advantage in the employment of horsepower is obtained when the hours of labor are increased and the pace correspondingly diminished.

My personal observations tend to prove the correct- ness of the above statement, and I am entirely opposed to the view expressed by an eminent railway authority (Tredgold), who considers that the amount of work ordinarily accomplished in eight hours may frequently be performed in six hours with advantage to the horses.

Draught horses can work long hours and draw very heavy loads if they are not over-paced, but to demand from them quick movement, in order that a day’s work may be completed at an early hour, will, if continued from day to day, materially shorten their periods of useful existence. In illustration, I submit the following problem, with its solution in two unusual ways. It is required as the daily work of two pairs of horses, equal in every particular to transport twenty-four tons of merchandise a distance of two miles from a given place. The one pair is occupied only six hours in drawing three four-ton loads and returning with the lightened dray.

The other pair, similarly, loaded, is two or three hours longer doing the same distance. The effects of the two arrangements will become perceptible in a few months. Although the first pair will rest in the stable at least two hours of the twenty-four more than the second pair, the latter will exhibit less fatigue, maintain better condition, and wear the longest.

I hold a strong opinion that the individual qualifications of each animal must be taken into ac- count, and that if his natural pace is three miles an hour he may, if not over-loaded, be permitted to cover his fourteen or sixteen miles in from five to six hours ; but to force a horse whose natural pace is only two or two and a half miles an hour to accomplish the distance in the same time, is a certain means of very greatly abridging his life ; whilst if allowed to work for ten hours if necessary he will last as long and probably longer than his more active companion, and be maintained in better condition upon a smaller allowance of food.

In the organization of team labor, it is essential to appreciate the natural paces of the individual animals and yoke them in accordance therewith. When such a course is impracticable, the working speed should be adjusted to the qualification of the slower horse.

Although of less important account than pace, the distance travelled for a day’s work will materially affect condition. Assuming that the time occupied by two pairs of horses in transporting twenty-four tons two miles be equal, but that the teams differ in strength and activity, pair No. 1, taking four three-ton loads, would be more fatigued, less easily conserve condition, and be sooner worn out, than the slower-moving but stronger No. 2, with their four-ton burdens, but diminished mileage.

In an equal degree with under-feeding, long-continued overwork, whether caused by excessively long hours, overloading, or over- pacing, is the reverse of true economy ; it cannot fail to be attended with deterioration of physical strength and health ; at first slowly, gradually, but very surely, it reduces the power, and consequently the value of the animals, and when pushed beyond a certain limit it rapidly and irreparably shortens their lives of usefulness.

Horses employed upon any kind of work benefit by periodical intervals of thirty minutes’ duration in each four hours for rest, when they may partake of a little food from a nose-bag. To work them and withhold their provender for a longer period than six hours is inconsistent with a proper appreciation of the functions of their digestive organs.

If requested to furnish an example or type of a fair day’s labor, suited to the powers of average farm horses, and one that could be continued daily throughout the year, without causing loss of condition, on a 16 lb. corn ration, I should instance the ploughing of an acre of land of average strength in furrows of 9 inches width, the numerical strength of the team proportioned to the resistance opposed by the nature of the soil, the depth of the furrow, and the gradients of the field. The distance to be travelled would not exceed 12 miles, the pace slightly over 1 \ mile per hour.

The urgency which exists for the prompt completion of many farming operations necessitates the exaction of more severe and continued labor from the teams at certain seasons than would be consistent with the maintenance of good condition, vigor, and health, if prosecuted daily throughout the year. When an excessive, but temporary, increase of team-work must be undertaken, the owner in arranging his operations will do well to fully appreciate the effects of pace, mileage, hours of service, and food supply.


To a hard-working-horse repose is almost as much a necessity as good food; but tired though he may be, he is often very shy to lie down even when a clean bed has been provided for him. Unless a horse lies down regularly his rest is never complete and his joints and sinews stiffen, and whilst it is true that some horses that sleep in a standing position continue to work for many years, it is equally true that they would wear much longer and perform their work much better if they rested naturally.

Young nervous horses do not infrequently refuse to lie down when first made to occupy a stall, and, when introduced into a town stable, the habit may become confirmed, unless inducements are offered to overcome the disinclination. Should the provision of a plentiful sweet and clean straw bed in the stall not prove sufficiently seductive, the horse should, whenever such a course is practicable, be lodged in a well-littered and quiet loose-box every night, until he has become accustomed to his new work, companions and surroundings.

When an older horse—one that has been for some years an occupant of a stall, and in the habit of taking his rest naturally—refuses to lie down, it may be suspected that he has sustained some injury, probably very slight, to his spine, or that the commencement of some disease in his hocks warns him that he will experience some difficulty in rising.

If the temporary sojourn in a loose-box does not induce a horse so circumstanced to resume his former practice, provision should be made for supporting him in his stall by means of slings during the time he is stabled ; if the construction of the building or its fittings renders the application of slings impracticable, a substitute may be improvised by stretching loosely across the stall a broad and strong leather belt, securely attached to each heel-post ; the horse will quickly learn the use of this appendage, and reclining therein will be enabled to obtain some support, rest, and sleep.

It is essential that horses should enjoy rest as complete as possible during the hours it is permitted; they should not therefore be disturbed by persons working in, or even entering, the stable at those times; the entry or exit of horses to or from work, or the noise of the shoeing forge, should be particularly avoided. When teams are working on different ‘ shifts,’ the stable arrangements should be as far as practicable as will prevent disturbance to the resting horses.

Bedding. —The lavish use of bedding in the farm stables of localities where the sale of straw is prohibited by conditions of tenancy, or where distance from a market is an obstacle to its profitable disposal, cannot be regarded exactly in the light of extravagance. The farmer requires manure and loses no opportunity of converting his straw into manure by every available means.

The case is entirely different with farmers who are allowed to sell their straw and are located within easy reach of a market; the straw they sell forms a very considerable portion of the proceeds of their corn crops, and so circumstanced they can purchase manure from the buyers of their straw.

To owners of teams working in towns, who frequently must pay a high price for the straw they require, the cost and consequently the consumption of litter is of considerable importance. Whatever the value of the article may be, a parsimonious use of bedding for cart horses is not economical. No practical man will be disposed to underrate the evils that result to horses which from any cause refuse to lie down, and therefore every inducement for them to take natural repose should be provided.

A plentiful, clean, and well-arranged bed of sweet dry straw is certainly one of the greatest obtainable inducements to that desirable end. Wheat straw, being tougher and more easily spread than other kinds, is the best adapted for bedding purposes. It should be unbruised, dry, clean, sweet, bright in color, and not have broad flaggy leaves.

The length of wheat-straw renders its use extravagant, as it frequently becomes soiled at one end only, to obviate this, each sheaf may be cut in two halves before being used. Where sufficient yard space is available, it is economical for the owners of town horses to separate the long and only slightly soiled litter from the manure and worn straw, and in fine weather to spread it exposed to sun and wind to dry for second use.

With care a horse may be provided with a good wheat straw bed for an average consumption of not exceeding 10 lb. per day. Other descriptions of straw are softer, less durable, and more extravagant to use. Sometimes hay of too inferior quality to be consumed as provender is utilized as litter. This practice is a most objectionable one; a sweet comfortable bed cannot be made of bad hay, and if its use is continued for a long time, the horses will become infested with lice.

The use of sawdust for town horses has of late become common, but I cannot subscribe myself as an advocate for its employment, except in association with straw, and under special conditions. A sawdust bed is not liked by cart horses; at its best it is comfortless and uninviting and should only be introduced into undrained stables provided with boarded floors; it may, however, be adopted with advantage for gross-feeding horses, prone to gorge themselves with straw supplied to them for litter.

The objections to sawdust do not apply where it is used as a cushion to be interposed between stone floors and the straw, where, in fact, it bears the same relation to straw as a mattress to a featherbed; so arranged, I regard it as economical in saving straw, and an absolute benefit and comfort to the horse.


Some years ago, the custom of preparing horses for sale was much more common than it fortunately is now. A Lincolnshire farmer could rarely be persuaded to offer his horses at the Lincoln April fair until they had been prepared for sale.

The preparation, as it was called, consisted in isolating the horse in a darkened loose-box, allowing no exercise, and supplying an unsparing quantity of food, calculated to produce fat—linseed cake, treacle, and new milk constituting a considerable proportion of the diet. As may be imagined, the result of such treatment made the horse unqualified for work, and well fitted for the reception of disease, almost certain to result, from the altered conditions of management to which he would be submitted by change of ownership.

The present buyers of horses for commercial purposes prefer an animal in working condition ; for if disease does not reduce an over-fat horse recently brought from country to town below his natural size, the first object is to take off the superfluous flesh, which the farmer has incurred so much risk and expense in putting on ; and subsequently to lay the foundation of hard muscle, by suitable food and a due amount of work.

The most rational system of preparation for sale is for the farmer to feed his horse substantially for some weeks and apportion his work so that an increase in growth of frame is gradually and stoutly effected. By such a course the seller, buyer, and horse are each benefited; the seller, by making the horse earn his food, and at a minimum of risk; the buyer, by acquiring an animal ready for his immediate use; and the horse, by being maintained in condition proper for the conservation of his health and power.

Best Wishes

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