DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
When friends and neighbors of Homer Huston gathered Saturday to help him prepare 70 leased acres for planting oats, they took plenty of horsepower – but not the John Deere kind.
The members of the Four Corners Draft Horse, Mule and Carriage Association hitched Percherons, Clydesdales, Belgian mules and Suffolk Punches to their discs and harrows.
“We used to get together like this every year, probably twice a year,” Bob Cooper said. “But we haven’t done it in three years because we all have so much going on.”
Cooper, who favors mules over horses because he considers them more of a challenge, arrived with Kit and Kate, Belgian mules ages 15 and 18, respectively.
A mule, usually, is a cross of a donkey and a mare. A hinny, the offspring of a stallion and a female donkey, is a rarer hybrid.
Mules don’t reproduce because they’re sterile.
Cooper uses his mules for ranch work and in a nonfarming enterprise – offering buckboard, carriage and, if there’s enough snow, sleigh rides.
The Four Corners Draft Horse, Mule and Carriage Association, which was founded in 1973, brings together about 50 families from the region.
They take part in parades and fairs and hire out with a carriage or a buckboard for special events such as weddings.
Once a month they meet for fun – a “ride and drive” at a different venue each time.
Huston, whose leased acreage is near Elmore’s Corner, arrived Saturday with daughter, Michelle Kruschel, and her daughter, Kourtney Canterbury.
Their pair of Belgian geldings and two molly (female) mules, which had been harnessed at home, were unloaded quickly.
When the field work began, Canterbury drove grandad’s team.
Huston was in familiar territory. He was born and raised in a farmhouse where Walmart stands. In fact, his birth certificate lists his place of birth as Carbon Junction.
He recalled that the only development between his family home and Farmington Hill was a livestock sales barn.
Chuck Baley arrived with Joe, Chief, Logan and Keno, all Suffolk Punches. The breed is developed strictly for fieldwork.
“Shires, Percheron and Belgians are work animals, too, but they’re show animals as well,” Baley said as he harnessed the equines. “But the Suffolk isn’t a ‘hitch’ horse.”
Baley allowed that it’s a chore harnessing the huge animals.
“This is why so many ranchers went to tractors,” he said.
Mel Bartel brought horsepower to spare – four Clydesdales weighing in at 1,800 pounds each and a Shire.
Bartel, a superintendent for Flint Energy, uses his horses to drag his hay fields and do other chores on his ranch east of Ignacio.
“I had the Shire and three Clydesdales, which I got as a package deal,” Bartel said. “I bought the fourth Clydesdale last summer to have a four-horse team.”
Bob Cooper summed up the philosophy of association members.
“We tend to like to uphold tradition,” Cooper said. “We like to preserve old ways and keep the legacy of draft horses and mules alive.”