Why Horses?

We believe modern horse logging is the ultimate overland extraction technique for a number of reasons.  We present some considerations below showing our reasons for using and promoting horse power in the woods. However, this list must be taken with the thoughtful consideration of two things.   First, just because a logger uses horse doesn’t guarantee that they will do a good job.  Horse power must be skillfully and consciously applied to harvesting to realize it’s full benefits.  Second, the advantages of horses are further amplified when used in conjunction with the proper outlook on forest management.  A sustainable/restorative forest management perspective is the specific context where this occurs.  With that in mind, here are some points to consider:

  • The spot compaction of animal feet is far less damaging to the forest soil and tree roots than the continuous tracking of rubber tires or steel tracks.  (See Joshua Deal Abstract.pdf on soil compaction).  New research suggesting that forest soils are much more important to the vitality of the ecosystem than previously thought puts this issue at the forefront.
  • Horses operate on solar fuel in the form of hay and grain.  Not only is their “exhaust” not harmful, it is actually beneficial to the woods.  And the ability to source feed locally reduces our dependence on foreign oil, and can keep more of the money produced in the community that it came from.
  • Horse are much more maneuverable than most equipment.  This coupled with the fact that horses most often pull timber in log length (as opposed to tree length) allows them to avoid damage to the residual tree trunks.  Their narrow footprint only requires 6’ wide trails, 3’ for a single horse.  In contrast, most equipment creates wide roads of 10-12’ or more and usually pulls tree length in the name of production, often rubbing the bark off of trees.  Horses allow the utmost degree of sensitivity towards the residual trees.  And we believe that the trees we leave behind are more important than what we take. 
  • Animals are self healing.  In contrast to any type of machinery, in many situations they will “fix” themselves just by being turned out to pasture.  This brings up another aspect, that of the cultural skills required to use horses.  Using horses require an intimate relationship with them, and the therapeutic effects of working with animals is well known.
  • Animal powered techniques are labor intensive and low volume in production.  These are often cited as negative features of our system, but we believe them to be positive.  In addition to the fact that requiring more work creates new job opportunities, it also opens up smaller tracts of woodland to be economically and sensitively harvested.  New research shows that 70% of the forested land in Virginia is private property in tracts of 10 acres or less, and that the trend of fragmentation that has been occurring will continue.  Because of our much lower relocation costs and lack of drive to cut all the best trees in order to cover costs, we are positioned to offer owners of small tracts some of the best options available.
  • Horses reproduce themselves.  As my friends say, you’ve never gone out to the barn and found a baby skidder the next morning.  We have had horses born in the woods, and raising your own power source from the ground up can be a very satisfying experience.  SCHL utilizes a home-raised team of draft horses.
  • They tend to promote local communities and sustainability.  A lot of the money produced when big iron is involved goes to large corporations outside of the local areas where they are used.  Horses on the other hand utilize locally grown hay and grain.  The local farrier does the hoof work every two months.  Veterinarians are employed in the care of the animals.  Local harness shops keep busy making sure the horses are properly equipped.  More money is kept local, stimulating the economy that is directly involved in the forests where the income is produced.
Stacks Image 20
Whether you are a landowner needing some work done or a wood products customer, we encourage you to come visit a working site to experience our techniques in action.  We are also available for site evaluation at your forest location.  Contact Us for more information.