Training Alma and Bett
The north Mississippi town of Como is one of those off the path places that is worth the excursion. It’s easy to miss if you are zipping down I-55 or US 51, because the main part of town sits on the railroad between the two highways. Slow down and look for it.
One of the attractions of Como is the food, both for horse and human. Along the highway is the Tri County Feed mill where horse feed is ground and mixed to exacting specifications. Tri County and Harvest feed brands are nutritionally complete and are always fresh because they are milled right on site. For human food there is the Como Steak House. This small charming restaurant has a reputation for grilling a fine steak.
Most Saturday evenings one can find Mark Gross and his gray Percherons Alma and Bett outside of the Como Steak House offering rides in his old cotton wagon. The children love these gentle giants and the mares seem to enjoy the work. These are work horses that love having a job to do.
Mark trained them for logging and they have been working together about 3 ½ years. He said that his father taught him how to train and farm with draft horses. “My late father Billy Gross was born in 1932 and farmed with draft horses all of his life. He would be insulted if you cranked up a tractor around him. I use these horses to log, mow, and rake hay, plow, cultivate, and pull every kind of wagon. I have a sled made out of aluminum they pull to take two rolls of hay at a time out to the pasture. So I guess they feed themselves! I also raise pencil cob corn, an old fashioned heirloom variety that has small cobs like a pencil. The horse drawn equipment is still available and what is not, we fix when it breaks. I’m a pretty good welder.”
He mentioned that he was able to help many people with his draft horses one winter when an ice storm gripped the Mid-South. He said that many a car and pick-up had slid off into the ditch and he and the horses pulled them out. “The horses could fetch groceries when the cars could not.”
He has even competed with tractors in a sled pulling competition. The horses were able to pull a loaded sled carrying the same weight that a tractor pulled, although not quite as fast.
Mark said, “Many folks have never been around work horses that have been trained by voice command.” He cautioned that since the mares are trained to voice command, if you shout out their names, they will interpret what you say next as a command.
Mark is keeping the tradition of farming with draft horses and seems to enjoy it. He is currently looking to breed at least one of his mares and would like to find a stallion for the purpose. “I would like to stick with Percherons,” he said
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