Horse Ploughing

What Horse Ploughing is all about - A Layman's Guide

There is a great deal more to ploughing than just driving a straight furrow across a field. If you know something of what the ploughman is really trying to do, you will get even more enjoyment out of watching the men and horses at work. The following notes are meant to give those who are interested a rough idea of what is in fact a complicated and very varied activity.

First of all, this is a real ploughing match. In a ploughing match, a plot of land is properly ploughed (8 by 80 yards in today’s match), from an ‘opening’ to a ‘finish.’ Straight furrows are certainly important, but are only one item in the list on the judges’ scorecards. There you also see things like: ‘crown,’ ‘firmness and seed bed,’ ‘soil made available,’ ‘ins and outs’ and so on. It would take too long to describe all the items in full, so let us first simply consider what the ploughman does basically. As far back as the fourteenth century in this country a ‘mouldboard’ was fitted behind the ploughshare. Beginning as a simple plank, this has evolved into a cunningly curved metal shape, also called a ‘turn-furrow,’ which describes what it does. The ploughshare makes a horizontal cut at the bottom of the furrow and a vertical blade, called a ‘coulter,’ makes the ‘furrow slice’ into a long continuous rectangle of soil which the mouldboard almost completely inverts. An important reason for doing this is to bury completely all the ‘rubbish,’ so that it will rot properly. The angle of turn, usually about 140, should present the maximum soil surface to the atmosphere and provide a good quantity of clean soil for harrowing.

All the furrows must be evenly spaced and level. Once again there is a practical reason for this: it ensures that the equipment that follows the plough, a seed drill for example, will run true. One kind of ploughing, which looks very impressive if the soil is in the right condition, is called ‘High Cut.’ For this, the share and the coulter are set to cut the furrow slice at a slightly sharper angle. When this is turned and laid firmly, it presents a series of sharp-angles furrow slices with smooth sides. It is employed when seed is sown broadcast by hand, a skill that has almost disappeared.

When the ploughing starts, you may see a team being led by an assistant. This is only allowed for the opening and the first three turns around the crown and sometimes for the last three turns of the finish. This happens usually if the team is strange to the ploughman or if the horses are a little unsettled. Everything in a plough team is divided down the middle into the ‘furrow side’ and the ‘land side.’ A good furrow horse walks neatly in the furrow so as not to damage the work done. Both horses should stand perfectly still while the ploughman makes necessary adjustments to his plough. At the finish, there is no ‘land’ for the land horse to walk on, so some ploughman will unhitch him and complete the ‘sole furrow,’ as the last one is called, with just one horse. But in this associations rules all horses in the plough team must be used to finish. So with a plough team of say two horses, the ploughman may decide to hitch the land horse in front of the furrow horse (in tandem) to finish.