Keeping Tradition Alive
This past weekend theMontana Draft Horse and Mule Association (MDHMA) met for their Spring Meeting at Castle Mountain Ranch in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. According to their website, The Montana Draft Horse and Mule Association was formed in 1982 by a small group of draft horse and mule enthusiasts interested in educational techniques of draft animal use in farm and ranch setting. Most members are from the middle to western part of Montana and all are welcome.
Approximately thirty members attended, bringing their horses or mules and all types of wagons. Recently, the association purchased two new wagons which were picked up in Minnesota. Some members began the foggy morning by jumping on the feeding wagon to help pitch hay to the cattle. Castle Mountain Ranch feeds all their cattle with teams, using large square bales for speed and efficiency.
The group’s experience levels vary widely from beginner to professional and members enjoy helping each other out with their teams. If asked, a more experience teamster can offer a tip or show a technique to another member facing a problem. Donna Norgaard, president of the association from Roy, Montana, said, “We’re likeminded people that enjoy driving. We drive for pleasure, farming, or ranching. We like to drive, socialize, educate, and eat together, in any order.” Donna has been working with horses and mules for the majority of her life and teaches workshops on driving throughout the summer. She’s also won an impressive number of teamster awards.
Ed Fryer, manager of Castle Mountain Ranch, a director for MDHMA and 2014 Montana Teamster Hall of Famer, gave a draft horse safety demonstration on development of a good routine. For the demonstration, Ed used a four-year old team who were essentially wild horses when he started them last year. Last winter, the two horses, Chico and Champ, were used separately with calmer, more mature horses and this past winter he put the two together as a team. He discussed the importance of using smooth, fluid movements, keeping quiet and doing the same routine every day. Ed said, “People come to clinics and want the magic button. I’ve been working with horses professionally for about forty years and there aren’t too many magic buttons. Most of the horsemanship issues are in our own minds. To be good at horsemanship, you must know how to work with all horses and not just your horse. Good horsemanship is recognizing and getting along with all horses in their realm.”
By late morning, the teamsters had hitched up their horse, mules or teams to their wagons and went for a wagon trail ride. The ride smelled of the pines trees and was slightly muddy. Due to fog, teamsters couldn’t tell that the skies were about to unleash an incredible spring shower. The return ride was cold and wet; luckily, everyone had their rain gear on.
After the group warmed up, the evening was spent with a catered dinner and a special concert from Montana teamster and musician, Bruce Anfinson. Bruce owns and operates Last Chance Ranch, outside of Helena, Montana, where guests can “travel back in time via horse-drawn wagons” and “experience a memorable evening of good food and good times” and “live western entertainment.”
The tradition of teamsters is thriving and well in Montana. Feeding with a team is hard-work and cattle must be fed in all kinds of weather conditions, daily. Farming with horses/mules can be equally as challenging. That being said, there is something exhilarating about driving a team and it’s good seeing the teamsters’ tradition kept alive.