This last weekend we went up to Bytča in northern Slovakia to a small draft horse competition, something I’ve been wanting to go to for some time. In the more rural parts of Slovakia work horses are still used on smaller farms.
As we drove north the hills become higher and closer together and, about 15 minutes from our destination, we drove into winter. Snow lay thick on conifer trees, low bushes still held the snow. My oldest daughter loves winter as much as I do and she kept exclaiming, “Oh, look, Mom, snow! It’s so beautiful!”
When we arrived the snow started falling, fat fluffy flakes so thick sometimes you could barely see. Along one side of the grounds were tents selling decorated gingerbread, handmade cowboy type boots and hats, harnesses and other paraphernalia for horses, sheep cheese and wooly knits, balloons and kid’s toys, goulash, and coffee.
We arrived towards the end of the wagon slalom.
There was one major difficulty in travelling where we knew nobody to watch an outdoor activity in the winter, or rather, I should say two difficulties. The two year old twins started out well enough, but their feet quickly became cold and I spent a good deal of time trying to distract or placate one or both. That means that instead of snapping a gazillion photos like I wanted to, I was trying to balance a snow suited child on one hip while trying to sneak a photo with one hand.
The next event, a log obstacle course, was my favourite. The driver could only walk as the horses were required to pull a long log through pylons, get unhitched and hitched again, and separate on each side of the log. I was glad to see two women drivers among the fourteen teams.
I’m afraid I don’t know the finer points of working with horses, but it was fascinating to watch each pair. Some horses were placid, others a little more high strung; some well trained and others less so. Drivers who could predict what to do and others who were less skillful.
I enjoy the atmosphere of groups of men watching and liberally commenting with advice, observations, and horse talk.
“Girl, girl, shorten up on your reigns. Ah, it’s no use.”
“Those horses’ legs are too skinny to be hitting the wood like that, that’s when it’s dangerous. They aren’t trained to do that.”
“No, no, don’t pull straight forward, to the side, to the side, that’s it.”
The third event was a heavy log pull. The teams started out hitched to two logs and picked up two more separate logs on the way. At each stop they only had three tries to get the horses pulling.
I have a couple photos of the above team, and in every one the horse on the right is pulling for all he is worth, while the one on the left is not quite so enthusiastic. Another team, the one in the top photo, got along fine when not working, but when pulling the darker one would bite the lighter one.
On our way home, we stopped at my in laws to warm up and eat. On the way back to the car, the very same twins who cried and whined a good chunk of the time, wanted to be held and to warm up in the car, said, “See horses? More horses?” And before bed, “Horses sleeping?” And the next morning, “Horses go home?”