Horse Tales


Horses were essential in the homestead days. Every farmer had several. My grandfather, Abraham Hanna, at one time had over 20 horses although usually they numbered about a dozen, more or less. They were all named. The stalls in the barn he built in 1917 could accommodate up to 16 horses.

Because horses were so essential, farmers took great care of them. Grandpa Hanna was no different. His diaries record which one was bred, or sick, or old and lame, or died.

Take, for example, the mares Minnie and Maud. They’re first mentioned in 1915 but I suspect Grandpa Hanna got them as fillies when he first homesteaded in 1909. Maud had at least two colts (1915 and 1920); in 1930 she was shot due to “old age.” Minnie is mentioned twice as being sick, once in 1920 (illness is not specified) and again in 1923 with azaturia (muscles cramps). Dr. Houze, the local vet, prescribed a regimen of fluids and feed, warmth and rest. The last reference to Minnie is 1934 – Abe described her as having been ailing for two months, then she suddenly became violently ill in the afternoon and died during night. That would make her close to 30 years old.

IF that is the 1915 Minnie. There are at least two instances in which the same name was given to different horses. A yearling called Dick died in 1920; in 1921, a second horse called Dick broke through the ice on the pond and had to be hauled out with the team. Then there was the black horse with the (now) politically incorrect name. He was obtained from Ed Roy in 1937, the same year in which the “Old” one died.

Horses provided “diversions,” shall we call them. There was Dick’s incident with the pond ice, mentioned above. Abe had to chase Mr. Kennedy’s horses out of the pasture. Harry Little’s team ran away while the Littles were visiting Abe and Addie. “Fly,” a mare, broke her halter and came running back to the farm from town, leaving Addie stranded. “Bill” was spooked by a flag on Ed Roy’s wagon and upset the buggy in which Abe and Addie were riding on their way home from Kincaid. While backing down the barn gangway, “Dan” spooked and backed to one side, upsetting wagon and rack and breaking two fork handles. And so on.

The Dirty Thirties were particularly hard on horses because of poor and insufficient feed. Often, the only “feed” available was green Russian Thistles, a particularly inedible, indigestible and non-nutritious option to oats and hay. The government-provided relief feed was little better. Horses and cattle suffered as a consequence.

In 1937, “Bill” tired easily due to shortage of good food. In December of that year, Abe could haul only small loads of hay from the relief car because the horses were so thin. In 1938, Dr. Houze called and vaccinated eight of Abe’s horses for prevention of encephalomyelitis or blind staggers, then a deadly new disease that had appeared in Western Canada a few years previously. Many horses in the area were already ill. About 1/3 of those affected died in a few days; those that recovered were unfit for work for a long time.

Unlike Dad, I did not grow up around horses – the last one died when I was about two. I was (and still am) skittish around horses – they are too big, too scary and too smart, smart enough to know that I am not comfortable with them and smart enough to take advantage of my fears. Over the years, I’ve had the odd occasion to try to ride one (“try” being the operative word). It has never ended well. On my last attempt, back in 1969, I was bucked off – one second I was in the saddle, the next I was on the ground wondering “What on Earth???”

I’ll stick with mechanical horse-power, thank you very much.

Want to read the whole story of my grandparents, Abe and Addie? Find out more about the book (and me) at

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Dogs and other farm animals

Almost all of Abe’s diary entries are terse, impassive, descriptive statements: “did this,” “did that,” “so-and-so visited,” etc. From time to time, though, his humanity shines through, no more so than when he is writing about certain of the farm animals.

Jack the dog
Every farm has at least one dog. They are as likely to be a mutt of uncertain and unknown parentage as they are a pedigreed purebred. They are companion and work dog combined. They guard the yard and house, herd cattle, and catch rodents. They chase cars and get into scraps with skunks and badgers. They follow you in the yard and in the field, play catch, and plop down beside you when you pause to rest. They nudge you with their muzzle when you need cheering up, listen attentively to everything you say, and demand nothing more than a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the head. They eat table scraps, chew up old bones and dig holes to bury their “treasures.” They howl at the moon and bark in response to other dogs’ barking. They live outside; they sleep in the barn when it’s cold or, if they’re lucky, on an old mat in a dog house. Some die of old age, some meet tragic ends. When they die, we mourn the passing of a dear friend. Continue reading “Dogs and other farm animals”