University of Vermont

Low Impact Draft Horse Logging, Stow, ME

Ethan Tapper

This summer I spent ten weeks logging in the area of Fryeburg, Maine. My teacher, John Plowden, is a self-taught horse logger. John has used the power of draft animals to harvest timber, pulp and firewood for over twenty years. Over the course of my internship I immersed myself in the craft of logging, working with horses in the woods, and all the work needed to make these activities possible. John and I spent many days mowing, raking, and baling hay for John’s three horses; Casey, Bubba, and Dan, and the better part of a week welding, cutting, grinding, and remanufacturing an old logging cart to John’s specifications. As John would tell me after a particularly grueling hay-day: “It’s all part of horse logging.”

I gained many practical skills from my work with John, but a large part of my learning was realizing the incredible potential that exists in logging with horses, and the implications this could have on the way forestry is practiced. Horses are not ideal for every woodlot or every silvicultural treatment, but in the right situation they can do things that no other harvesting system can. Their impact can be incredibly slight, especially with regards to soil compaction and erosion and (given a conscious teamster) usually with regards to the residual stand they leave behind. The overhead costs associated with working with horses, especially compared to mechanized operations, are incredibly small, which allows them to work in smaller and less profitable woodlots, and to conduct timber stand improvement (TSI) cuts with less cost to landowners.

None of the horse loggers I met considered what they were doing to be in competition with mechanized operations. They considered themselves separate, with a different place in the modern practices of forestry and logging. Upon working with several of them, I realized that the way modern forestry is practiced, and indeed many of the ideas I have been learning in forestry classes, have been shaped by assumptions related to mechanized harvesting systems. I began to see that horses were not simply a lower impact and lower yield version of a skidder, but rather unique harvesting systems able to carry out unique forest management.

As with other internships I have completed, at Plowden Horse Logging the amount I learned was directly proportional to my interest in the subject at hand. I care deeply about forests, and I have come to care passionately about working with horses in the woods. I found that the more I invested myself in what I was learning, the more I learned. Conversely, the more I learned, the more in love with my experience I became. All silviculture and science aside, I found logging with horses to be an intensely fulfilling experience, and one that, given what I know about forests, feels right to me.