Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Landis Valley’s Gentle Giants

Guest blog entry by Joanne Ranck Dirks
Here at Landis Valley it’s easy to imagine living in the past when riding on a wagon pulled by two slow-stepping draft horses.  The farm on the museum grounds is home to eight of these gentle giants who ferry visitors of all ages around the site.  It’s wonderful to hear delighted school children shout, “Horses!  Horses!” and see seniors smile and exclaim, I haven’t had a wagon ride since I was a child!”

The horses have names as unique as they are.  There’s Duke, Maude, Ben, Hank, and Hunter, and then there’s Bonnie and her daughters, Lizzie and Nettie May.  Both of Bonnie’s girls were born here and Nettie May is named after Nettie May Landis, sister of our museum’s founders.  Four are Percherons, two are Belgians and two are Clydesdales.

These draft horses do most of their work when temperatures are warm, from April to November, but that is mostly to please the folks who ride on the wagons.  The horses themselves prefer to be outside in temperatures that range from 40 to 80 degrees.  Winter wagon rides are a treat during the
Country Christmas Village (December 3 and 4).  At the annual Holiday Bonfire (December 16), wagon rides happen in the dark with bells jingling!  And on the occasion of a deep snowfall, it doesn’t take long to hitch up the horses to the bobsled.

 There’s also work to be done each year in June during the annual Summer Institute classes here at Landis Valley.  The class “Using Horses as Draft Animals” gives participants an opportunity to learn to drive horses and also watch demonstrations of horses cultivating rows in the field.

Four of the horses are owned by volunteers and four are owned by the museum. They are some of our best museum ambassadors, as they occasionally travel to other historic sites to give wagon rides, join parades and compete at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show held in January each year pulling carts and wagons.

In past centuries, teams of draft horses pulled Conestoga freight wagons filled with the bounty of Lancaster County farms to Philadelphia and returned with manufactured goods.  The horses at Landis Valley today don't work that hard yet they help us glimpse into the past and do it handsomely.​

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