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Veteran Advocates Draft Horse Therapy
Before Mike Sams returned home after an 11-month deployment in Iraq and 24 years of service with the National Guard, he arranged to buy a neighbor’s team of draft horses and equipment.
  “The first thing I wanted to see after my family was the horses,” he says. “There are lots of therapy programs with saddle horses. Draft horses are different because you can do farm work with them.”
  Sams is passionate about spreading that message to other returning veterans who need to make the transition back to civilian life. That includes his own son-in-law Seth Connell.
  “At first I was pretty intimated. They are big animals,” says Connell. “But after the first day plowing with them, I started to build the confidence that I’d kind of lost during my two deployments to Iraq.”
  He says he felt refreshed by the orchestra of harness, plow iron and horse and the clean scent of soil as the plow turned the earth under him.
  “You can talk to these horses, and they’re not going to talk back, and they don’t laugh at you. If you are kind of down and feel blue that day, they’ll make you happier,” Connell adds. “Farming in general has given me something to look forward to again – a feeling of self worth.”
  “You’ve got to want to do it; horses require more work,” Sams emphasized to Connell and other veterans, who have attended a workshop about getting into farming and food production. “But they start every day. They don’t get flat tires. And if you get cold you can walk.”
  Horse power can be an economical option over tractor power for some chores. When logging, for example, they can get into places where tractors can’t, and horses’ hooves cause less damage than big tractor tires.
  Sams and his son, Matthew, use horses with a wheeled cart built out of scrap parts to haul big round bales to their beef herd. An 8 hp gas motor controls hydraulic arms similar to a tractor bale unroller to load and unload up to three big round bales at a time. A fifth-wheel style hitch at the front, allows the cart to make tight turns.
  Sams buys used equipment at local auctions and from retiring horse owners, but notes new equipment is still being made for horses. For example, he has a power cart made my Pioneer that has an engine, pto, hydraulics, and everything needed to hook up any implement. Horses can be used for all types of tillage including minimum and no-till. The width of the implements and aggressiveness of the tillage determine how many horses are needed to pull the equipment.
  Sams encourages anyone interested in draft horses to find a local draft horse association and find a mentor. He learned how to work with them 35 years ago when he worked for a dairy farmer who used horses to haul manure out of the barn daily. Sams had several horses and 130 head of cows, but had to sell them and the farm before his last deployment. Since returning in 2006, he has started farming again with 147 acres of land and 50 beef cows. He also has 13 saddle horses and eight Belgian draft horses.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Mike Sams, 10144 95th Ave. S.W., Staples, Minn. 56479 (ph 320 241-2227; y4ranch@hotmail.com).

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2013 - Volume #37, Issue #2