Book Reflection: Tales of the Horse

Rural towns everywhere have an older generation that shares stories about how they grew up farming, mining, and other professions that are either phasing out or converted to rely on technology to the point the job doesn’t resemble the version predating World War II. Often the elderly converse with good humor despite how ludicrously harsh the lifestyle is considered now. Between the perspective and the history lesson, I have always enjoyed listening.

Years ago I traveled with my dad to Maritime Canada, the smaller eastern provinces. While in Nova Scotia and at one of the many quaint visitors’ centers, we found a book by R. V. McLeod called Tales of the Horse: Personal Reflections. Since my life has been entwined with horses, we bought it–among half a dozen irrelevant others because of course one can’t leave a bookstore with just one book.

Tales of the Horse cover

You can even see how long it took for me to get around to reading this (receipt is from 2006–the 6 looks like a 0). True booknerd style: I can’t keep up with my to-read pile!

McLeod’s father was a logging camp boss from an era of Nova Scotia without snowmobiles. The province has seen much logging and has no original forest left. The area also receives regular loads of snow easily several feet deep. These two circumstances made horses incredibly valuable. Loggers would stay all winter at a camp with equines hauling the logs and bringing in supplies from town, including the all-important physician. Without snow plows they couldn’t afford horses that weren’t built for strength and steadfastness.

Despite the lifestyle, McLeod speculated that logging horses had it good because they establish a snow trail and use it all day, preventing build up. The horses in town spent two hours in tall snow, waited all day for the master as he worked a regular job, and another two hours back in fresh, high-stacked snow.

How cold was it in traditional logging camps? It depended on the lodging design and other factors no one could figure out. The warmest had the kitchen built under a storey for bunks. The cook also was the one who kept everyone orderly by requiring a clean building and even silent meal times. Cold camps had kitchens and the cook’s housing in an area separate from everything else. These camps were often rowdy, smelly, and cold enough to freeze the author’s pillow to the wall from Christmas to March 15th. Perhaps everyone was happy to get up at 5 am and warm up on the several miles to the logging site. Sometimes the pigs, also known as living garbage disposals,  would escape their pens and join the humans and horses.

Tales of the Horse diagram

Tales of the Horse had a few illustrations for logging camp designs and the man-made tools of the trade.

Back to horse stories, McLeod shared a few typical ones like participating in shows or spectating hauling competitions. But what I enjoyed reading were the “rescue” stories. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (I spell out SPCA because I’m so used to the initialism that I didn’t know what the letters stood for–apparently not Society for the Protection against Cruelty to Animals) rescued dozens of horses in Montreal, and the McLeods’ bought six of them. With good care and patience, five of them became healthy, sturdy work steeds. Another case, a horse working in a nearby prison spooked during a storm and injured an inmate. He had to be sold or “destroyed”. He did well by the McLeods, but the author noted an oddity:

I drove this team from Woodhurst to Johnson’s Lake, 20 miles, and when I went by the Prison driveway [the horse bought from the Prison] stopped and tried to go in. People say horses can’t reason but I disagree after seeing this performance.

Since history is rife with poor animal ethics, I loved hearing about people that worked in industries that relied on animals but didn’t see the creatures as just a means to an end. The McLeod’s and other citizens of Sackville, N. S., loved their horses.

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