Rarely, when reading about sustainable farming, does the discussion explore the use of horses on the 21st Century farm. This week, Nicola Smith, staff writer for the Valley News in New Hampshire featured author-farmer Stephen Leslie, who uses draft ponies instead of tractors on his farm. In her article, Horse Power Returns, Smith describes how Leslie and his team of two Norwegian Fjord ponies live and work together on a 60-acre organic farm. His team of two 950 pound draft ponies (Cassima and Tristan) equals about a 20-horse power tractor. Leslie’s not alone in his preference for horse power over the roar of an engine. In fact, the article estimates that 400,000 U.S. farmers today are using horses.
According to Leslie, the author of The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale, Sustainable Market Grower (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 346 pages, $39.95), some of the benefits working the farm with horses include: less soil compaction, no fuel, and the joys of working with “a living, breathing, intelligent animal.”
I learned a lot from Smith’s article and definitely want to check out this book. When I first wrote about CSAs and the sustainable food movement, back in 1998, I was just learning to ride horses. What I found so interesting in this article is how much Leslie values his relationship with his two ponies. Even though the setting in this article is a working farm, I think the point is similar to what folks in therapeutic riding and animal therapy know to be true and what every pet owner knows: Human beings benefit physically, cognitively, and emotionally from animal companionship. Earlier this year Reuters published an equally fascinating article about how South Koreans are using horse therapy to help teens unplug from the Internet.