Horses with Jobs: Logging Horses

By Margaret Evans

Job Description: Draft horses skid logs out of the forest, allowing for selective harvesting of timber and minimizing damage to the environment. 

Horses and oxen have been used to haul logs since pre-industrial times. Much of it was small scale harvesting, but it was hard and hazardous work. Unstable and snagged trees, falling branches, and loose material were the “widow makers” of a rapidly growing but dangerous industry. But as settlers arrived in Canada, more land had to be cleared for home-building, farming, and travel. Ultimately, horses and oxen were replaced with machinery and logging trucks. But today, some people have kept the heritage of horse logging alive. 

“We are using two teams to work with at present,” says Jennifer Dillman who, with her husband Delbert, runs Triple D Draft Horses in Prince George, British Columbia. “One is a team of Percheron/Canadian cross geldings. Rowdy and Tork are both eight years old and approximately 1,750 lbs. Both have fantastic personalities and temperaments. Our other team is Axle and Bobbie, both 10-year-old Belgian geldings. Axle is 2,100 lbs. and Bobbie 2,200 lbs., and both have wonderful personalities.”

Eight-year-old Percheron/Canadian cross geldings Rowdy and Tork skidding a log. Photo courtesy of Triple D Draft Horses 

Delbert is well known for his expertise and passion in the draft horse industry. He has logged with horses most of his life. He started at the age of seven with a pony when his family lived in Nova Scotia, and he loved the sport of horse pulling. When he was 14, he logged with a team full-time throughout the Maritime provinces, and moved to British Columbia when he was 19. 

“We do select logging for private land owners,” says Jennifer. “A typical day would be feeding the horses in the morning. Then we trailer out to the worksite. Delbert does falling and then skidding [pulling] the logs to a landing. He needs to cut trails for the horses to skid through. The horses get an hour’s lunch for feed and water. We work a few more hours in the afternoon then head home. You can do a better job by select logging because you leave more regeneration and there is less ground disturbance than when using machinery.”

Select logging with horses causes less ground disturbance, and leaves small trees growing to regenerate the forest. Photo courtesy of Triple D Draft Horses 

She says that a team can produce about 32 tons of timber. But it all varies with the ground conditions, length of the skid, and size of the wood. Weather conditions create common challenges such as deep snow, the ground being too wet, or the weather being too cold. The horses need well-fitted and well-maintained harness, and proper shoes for the conditions.

Delbert shares his knowledge with others wanting to do horse logging, among them Lenard Sanders who owns Misty River Ranch near Prince George.

Axle and Bobby skidding a log. Photo courtesy of Triple D Draft Horses 

“Delbert taught me to log with horses,” he says. “We got Tom and Toby, our Percherons, about four years ago. We bought a carriage first then got the horses for it. But they were actually too big for the carriage.”

He has had saddle horses all his life but started logging with Tom and Toby after doing some logging with his cousin.

These hard-working Belgian geldings are Axle and Bobby, both 10 years old. Photo courtesy of Triple D Draft Horses 

“I wanted to get some salvage logs near my house. I put the collars on the horses and walked them down the road. They were pretty excited. But they are so gentle and fantastic in harness. I took some of the salvage logs out. I have a sawmill and I will mill them into 6x6s. I try to do value-added work if I can, selling tables, log cabins, and renovating log houses. As time goes on I’ll get another set of horses. I don’t want to push the older horses.”

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Main article photo courtesy of Triple D Draft Horses.

This article originally appeared in Canada’s Equine Guide 2017, a publication of Canadian Horse Journal.

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