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Work Makes The Chore Horse, Says Top Teamster

“Everyday work,

that’s what makes the difference, I guess.”

– DON BUTTERFIELD

It’s a sign of the times.

The activities at the Dauphin Agricultural Heritage Club’s annual old-time threshing day could be either nostalgic or futuristic – depending on your view of the future of world oil production.

There was no discussion of Peak Oil at the event held last Saturday, but there was plenty of work being done without the magic of fossil fuels.

A demonstration of a turn-of-the-century stationary square baler, powered by a team of strong horses and men with pitchforks, showed that hay can be packaged sans diesel into neat little squares – albeit a little slowly.

Of course, the tractors that spun the belts that ran the three threshing machines lined up in a row were running on refined products derived from black gold, but the horses on the discer, mower and cultivator weren’t.

The Chore Team competition, a perennial favourite, aims to duplicate the necessary skills used by a teamster and his horses in the everyday business of farming. Those include standing calmly while hitching up to a wagon, rounding tight corners, and backing up to drop off freight onto a dock.

Judging is based on a perfect score of 90, with points deducted for mistakes, and the total time used in covering the course.

Don Butterfield, 74, the driver of a team of young black Percherons that ended up winning the event with a near-perfect score of 88 out of 90 and a time of five minutes and 29 seconds, said that giving horses some work to do every day is the secret to attaining top performance.

Having a team that moves together like clockwork, even at a brisk walk, is the secret to winning, he said.

“They’ve got to know gee and haw. That makes a big difference,” he said, referring to the teamster’s commands for left and right turns. He has another team back on the farm in Laurier that follows voice commands so well that he could virtually drive them without lines, he added.

“We use them for chores all winter,” said Butterfield, mainly hauling hay out to feed his 100-head of cattle in winter. “Everyday work, that’s what makes the difference, I guess.”

Butterfield’s winning team was broke to drive by Ed Duncalfe, a former PMU rancher from Winnipegosis, who picked them out of a group of foals on pasture. He was on hand at the event to offer congratulations to Butterfield, the perennial favourite in the annual competition.

“I spent the first winter with them, just driving them around the farm on the sleigh,” he said.

Duncalfe, who has trained many teams of horses, has never had a runaway, he added, because he is always careful to train the animals in gradual steps, first singly in a small pen, then hitched together as a team in a larger pen.

Is there money in training drafts?

“About 50 cents an hour,” he said with a laugh. “I broke two teams last winter just for something to do and I likely spent a couple of hundred hours on each team just to make them decent.”

Duncalfe, who lost his PMU contract in a round of cutbacks in the industry, still has 65 draft mares out on pasture. The prospect of sky-rocketing oil prices sending demand for good, trained teams through the roof makes him chuckle.

Kevin Wrightson, with a pretty Belgian quarter-horse cross team, came in second with 84 points and a time of 6:18.

Norman Long, driving over 4,000 pounds of eight-year-old Belgian horseflesh, came in third, with 84 points and a time of 6:20.

“I drive them three or four times a month,” said Long. “I do wagon rides for everybody in town and for the Bible camp, too.”

If there was an award for most economical horsepower, his team, former PMU colts, would have won it hands down. He bought the pair of geldings – which stand a lofty 17 hands high – for $200 each and trained them to drive himself, mainly in the course of skidding the seven or so cords of firewood out of the bush that he uses each winter.

“If you train them well, they’ll learn to stand good,” he said. “That’s the main thing.” [email protected]

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