The Oxen Are Coming!
The Eau Claire stable of draft horses and horse farming just got bigger.
Welcome to Lion and Bright – two 1800 lb Oxen – who epitomize the expression “strong as an Ox”. They come to us via Nova Scotia, one of the last bastions of the Ox community, where they still raise, train and use Oxen for farm chores, pulling competitions and other fun activities. Thanks to our friends Colette and Sterling, we were able to source the team and bring them out to Alberta in time for the Calgary Stampede and our fall harvest.
Why? That seems to be the question asked by most of our friends. Answer: because it’s fun! Some of you may note the unusual name of our Prickly Pear EquineOx. We named it to honour our prairie farmer ancestors who settled the prairies with Oxen and Horses, often in team combinations of both. We thought that for the 150th birthday of Canada, there should be at least one Oxen team west of the Maritimes, if only to honour the role they played in the history of western settlement.
The Oxen Project was a long but fun process. Even their journey across Canada was a 3 week road trip!
Of course, none of us knew the first thing about Oxen. I actually thought you drove them while seated behind – like horses. Nope. You leader them, like puppy dogs, with a baton called a ‘Gad’. They look at the Oxen ‘drover’ like he or she is the lead cow – once they’ve got a bead on you, they follow – VERY closely. It is very disconcerting for learners when you have four pointed horns zeroed in on your posterior! Then you need to know the voice commands for left, right and importantly….to stop. Oxen are slow moving, and I’m pretty sure that there is a 3-5 second delay between the command and the response! As you drive them, waving your ‘Gad’, you feel like you are an orchestra conductor, and they take every cue from you as you walk.
We had our coach and mentor Sterling Gates, along with friends Joe and Bill Jeffrey, as our tutor for learning to drive. Over a couple of days prior to the Stampede, we did some logging, ploughing and driving to get us comfortable. Soon we were ready for the Stampede parade. It was brutally hot, and we and the oxen got slower and slower in the 35 degree heat, but we made it! I pity the poor folks who followed us – Oxen seem to have a steady stream of ‘diarretic excess’ coming out of their rear ends. Not their most charming feature!
Anyway, be prepared for meeting our new company mascots and team members over the coming months! They are majestic animals in their head yokes, accompanied by the constant ringing of antique cow bells. Maybe by the time our fall barley harvest comes around, we will be more proficient ‘Oxen Drovers’!
In Equine & Ox, we trust!