By Matt Harrison
Using a work horse to skid timber from snow-laden woods is not a hitch of a different collar. But as Farrellton woodsman Randy Kidder recently explained, “It’s a dying art.”
Dying, but not altogether lost, because for one small local group – mostly women – the art was being rediscovered in a two-day workshop in February.
Kidder spent the first day teaching participants, including Wendy Mueller, Shayne Bradley, Lori Quenneville, and Charlotte Scott, how to harness and hitch the horse to a sleigh, drive and manoeuvre it around an obstacle course set up at Lynne Threlfall’s farm in Farrelton.
On Day 2, the group trekked into the woods, where Kidder felled timber, cut the logs to length, and chained them to a horse, a Percheron named Willy. The participants took turns driving and skidding the logs.
Logging is hard work, and Kidder pointed out that using a skidder – a heavy-construction vehicle with all-wheel drive – is more efficient.
Forgoing that, Kidder prefers using horses, manoeuvring around standing trees, minimizing the environmental impact.
Kidder is quick to counter his being painted as an environmentalist, nor does he refer to “sustainability.” For him, it’s a case of common sense: “You want to be able to go into the forest, pick out your trees without smashing the whole thing down.”
Trampled trees do not grow back well, said Kidder, and that means the loss of income.
While that may not have been the motivating factor, participants shared Kidder’s practical approach, though at times nuanced with eco-jargon.
Kidder doesn’t keep horses, which is often the case with others, such as Quenneville. She wanted to put her horses to better use, as they were largely inactive, becoming “too fat and lazy.”
Skidding timber being beneficial made horse sense, as evidenced by the sweat lathered on Willy’s coat after hauling only two logs.
The course participants were tired, too, stopping only at noon for lunch around a make-shift fire, a mainstay of the lumbering experience: It warms, dries, and keeps the tea hot, allowing the group to work longer and productively, explained Kidder.
Although the preservation of old traditions could be viewed as romantic, Scott expressed the view that her goals were pragmatic.
“I don’t see myself as romanticizing some dying art. This is practical knowledge that’s still relevant,” said Scott, a vegetable farmer.
She believes that horses are better for soil health and wants to use horses in cultivating, “weeding, mowing, generally things tractors do,” she said.
“Many have horses as a hobby,” Scott said, “and it’s kind of tragic; horses are intelligent and capable animals, and partnered with humans can accomplish truly amazing things. That this knowledge is being lost is a tragedy.”
Indeed, Kidder is one of a few who have retained the knowledge. Recognizing (this), participants approached him, with the idea of holding the workshop. By the end of the day, the group was perhaps cold, certainly tired, but definitely encouraged and invigorated.
“What’s hard work nowadays?” Scott asked rhetorically, smiling. “What’s wrong with dedicating yourself to a vocation that demands all of your mental and physical faculties?”
Kidder cautions that the workshop won’t suddenly allow participants to go home and harness their horses for hauling duties.
“This comes from experience,” said Kidder. “No one’s going to be able to do this really well in a couple of days.”
Kidder is available for follow-up instruction.
“I don’t send them home and that’s the end of it,” he said. “If they have a problem, they can bring their horse here and I’ll help them.”
Based on this first workshop success, Kidder is considering holding additional sessions.
For information, contact Randy Kidder or Lynne Threlfall at 819-459-1286, or email: email@example.com.