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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011

Horse power is high on nostalgia, low on oil


COVINGTON, Ind. — Surrounded by massive farm machinery on neighboring farms, retired carpenter Ray-Bob Abernathy is methodically cutting his hay with an antique mower and only two horsepower: his 13-year-old geldings Achilles and Paris.

“I do everything with the horses that I have the equipment for,” Mr. Abernathy said after finishing his last hay field. “I guess I do it for the same reasons some guys climb mountains. I just enjoy doing it.”

Aside from mowing and raking hay, the horses’ main job is logging some of the farm’s wooded acres in the wintertime.

And when Mr. Abernathy and a neighbor decided to experiment with planting 4 acres of potatoes for a cash crop last spring, Achilles and Paris pulled the disk cultivator and planter.

“Anything you want to do with the horses takes about an hour per acre on average. They can do a little bit better than that on days that aren’t hot,” he said.

Working horses are few and far between on farms in Fountain County and even in neighboring Parke County, which has a sizable Amish population, it’s rare to see a hayfield mowed the old-fashioned way, according to Mr. Abernathy.

But nostalgia for the old ways is not the only reason he works horses on his 59-acre farm.

“Every time I hitch them up, I feel like I’m sending OPEC a letter saying that ‘I don’t need you guys,’” he said.

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