On a recent Saturday afternoon, after I had just finished working with my horse Sean and was turning him out to pasture, I noticed something on the dirt road near at the top of our driveway.

I called out to my wife, who was nearby.

“Look, there’s a horse-drawn wagon coming.”

It was our neighbor Don Rutherford (who lives about two miles away as the crow flies) and his team of Belgian mares, Annie and Ruby.

Now, I’ve seen wagon teams before in person. But I had never seen anything like this.

As the gigantic horses turned the corner at the top of the driveway and approached the area where I was standing, I swore I could feel the ground shake and see the trees waver. The mares moved in shared harmony, high stepping so their massive hooves could clear the ground as they moved forward.

It was truly awesome sight.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Don said the gigantic Ruby pushes the scales at more than 1800 pounds and the even bigger Annie goes more than 1900. But as he parked the wagon under a walnut tree, it was obvious that the nearly two tons of equine bulk had no qualms about submitting to the wishes of a 200-pound human and seemed almost glad to respond favorably to his commands.

As I walked up to these immense horses, I could see the kindness in their eyes – although I had to look up (way up) to do so. I had to almost fully extend my arm to pet Annie on the forehead, something my 6-foot-3-inch frame and I are not accustomed to.

“Man, Don, these girls are something else,” I said.

“Yeah, they take up a lot of room in a trailer,” he said.

After we sat on the porch and drank a glass of clean well water, Don and his big ladies took my wife and I for a ride. It was hard not to imagine what is was like in the Ozarks back in the 1800s, when people used similar rigs to pick up a month’s worth of supplies in town and haul them to their remote residences.

As we bounced slowly along, sitting on the basic wooden benches suspended on shock-absorbing metal rails, a sort of peacefully historic atmosphere set in. The clinking and clanking of metal parts of the harness and wagon gear, the horses’ huge hind ends rhythmically moving to and fro, and the smells and sounds of the outdoor surroundings made for an almost mesmerizing series of moments.

Our Welsh Corgis Jamie and Gertie came along, too, and clearly enjoyed the ride. Jamie almost couldn’t stand how much fun it was, illustrated by the way the back legs on his long and low body quivered and shook now and then – a sure sign of alert excitement. He spent many minutes leaning his head on the edge of the wagon’s “box,” relishing the open-air view and working the air with his sizeable snout.

As we covered multiple miles of Texas County back roads, I never got enough of watching the huge beasts of burden obey a man using only non-threatening voice commands and gentle motions with basic leather tools. And the verbal instruction was fascinating, made up in large part of a language common only to driving teams.

When Don wanted the girls to pull the wagon to the left, he would call out “come ha!”

To the right, “come gee!”

When he did, the wagon would turn in a surprisingly tight radius.

Of course, we’re talking about a wagon with rubber tires, but that’s OK. I have no doubt that people living in the 1800s would have used Michelins, too, if they had been available. Who wouldn’t want a bit smoother ride and more control?

Being the personality-plus mammals that they are, all horses are naturally prone to somewhat comical behavior at times. On a couple of occasions, Don caught Ruby cheating a bit, allowing the larger Annie to do most of the work, especially on uphill grades.

But with a pat of the long leather rein and a call of “step up, Ruby,” the team would even out without missing a beat.

Annie never seemed to mind her partner’s ploy, though. She just kept digging in, seemingly understanding that she was the transportation machine’s main engine and appearing to embrace that notion with equally strong senses of duty and pride.

When we got back to the house and had another round of well water, it was like the only thing we could do was smile. As far as I’m concerned, after witnessing the coordinated give-and-take that existed between the two big horses and their much smaller master, it would be folly to argue that God didn’t intend men and horses to work as teams.

From beginning to end, that wagon ride with don and his Belgians was an experience my wife and I won’t soon forget.

Add that to the list of the many reasons I enjoy life in the Jillikins.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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