Killacky: Summer Pursuits

Jul 9, 2013

Every summer, exuberance for the outdoors overtakes me. During the rest of the year, I’m an omnivore consuming performances, exhibitions, and movies in darkened spaces. Now I celebrate sun, sky, and even rain, with Vermont’s agricultural offerings.

Hen swaps introduce me to bird fanciers’ exotic heritage breeds of poultry. The Sheep and Wool Festival finds me petting rabbits, llamas, sheep and goats. Watching agility trials proved way too much for our Border collie. Yelping and pulling on her leash, she too wanted to fetch Frisbees and run obstacle courses.

I enjoy taking visitors on a pilgrimage to Dog Mountain. Stephen Huneck’s canine woodcarvings and whimsical stained glass windows in his St. Johnsbury Dog Chapel are exquisite. Now a somber memorial to both him and his wife, I am grateful it remains open.

The Strolling of the Heifers in Brattleboro and the Charlotte Tractor Parade affirm there are many paths for artistic expression. Champlain Valley Fair, and practically every county fair, contains an overabundance of animal husbandry delights. However, the barns are almost overshadowed by irresistible heart-stopping cuisine. Corn on a stick slathered in butter and salt divinely complements equine demonstrations.

Dressage events abound throughout the state. Here horsemanship is scrutinized in balletic terms: the passage, the piaffe, the pirouette, and the change of lead are breathtaking. The ease of the rider is judged equally with the elegance of the animal.

Upcoming on July 27th is the Green Mountain Draft Horse Field Day at Shelburne Farms. I love seeing these animals working in harness. Driving clinics and wagon rides with both the gentle giants and mini horses are not to be missed. This year has a wheat focus and the entire cycle of plowing, seeding, growing, reaping, binding, and threshing will be demonstrated.

My current reading: “The New Horse-Powered Farm” by Stephen Leslie who manages an organic farm in Hartland, Vermont. It’s a wonderful 21 st century compendium celebrating the renaissance of farming with horse drawn equipment.

Tips on breed attributes, training, care for workhorses, appropriate tools, and techniques for fertilizing, tilling, cultivating, and harvesting are illustrated, augmented by first person narratives from various teamsters, farmers, and draft horse aficionados.

The longer days of summer also give me more time after work to be at the barn with my Shetland pony. She’s no draft horse, but loves her job pulling me around in a cart and rolling on her back in her pasture.

Fall, and a return to indoor cultural pursuits, will come soon enough.