Rick Thomas arrived at his current occupation—that of a horseman—through a series of unique circumstances that lead him to truly believe in fate. His passion for horses extends back to his childhood growing up in the presence of his grandparents in hardscrabble Oklahoma; dirt farmers who endured the Great Depression and maintained an uncanny positive outlook on life, love, and farming which he believe was a result of what Timothy Egan calls “those worst, hard times.” Thomas says, “I love the work of a farm with the seasonal rhythm, the extremes of emotion—joys and celebrations coupled with heartbreak and frustration often in the same day—working in harmony with something much larger than me helps puts life into perspective.” Teaching at Sterling College connects him to those things he values: hard work, living a farmer’s life, continued learning through experiential challenge, and building lasting relationships with students. His courses are designed to introduce and then sequentially build knowledge on the use of horses as a viable source of power for today’s small scale diversified farming endeavors. Interactive lectures coupled with weekly laboratory experiences allow students the opportunity to use horses across the College’s working agricultural landscape. Each week, students engage in classroom experiences and actual working laboratories as they pursue their own answer to the question: why farm with horses? As an example, learning theory behind tillage techniques while actually using the horses for tillage is a powerful method to understand complicated processes; further, watching the results of different tillage tactics across a growing season provides a unique way to learn critical observations skills necessary to assess the appropriateness of different farming practices. Through it all, the horses; as Joe Camp writes, “Often, in the early evening, when the stresses of the day weigh heavy, I pack it in and head out to the pasture. I’ll sit on my favorite rock, or just stand, with my shoulders slumped, head down, and wait. It’s never long before I feel the magical tickle of whiskers against my neck, the elixir of warm breath across my ear, a restoring rub against my cheek. I have spoken their language and they have responded. And my problems vanish.” Thomas reminds us, “They are there for us, always willing, always ready, we must learn the lessons they teach for no better teacher, no better teaching method exists—the power of being present with them is overwhelming and we are blessed to share even a little bit of time in their midst.”
Northern Arizona University
Maryland Horseshoeing School
The Hands of Time. 2005. Rural Heritage Institute, Sterling College, Craftsbury Vermont.
From Facebook to Furrow: A Teaching Teamsters Tale. Draft Animal Power Field Days, 2010. Tunbridge, Vermont.
Triumphs and Tribulations: Working Horses on the College Farm. Draft Animal Powered Field Days, Tunbridge Vermont, 2011.
Current challenges in heavy horse farriery: A new take on an old tune. Draft Animal Power Field Days, 2013, Barton Vermont.
Thomas, R.G., LaStayo, P.C., Hoppeler, H., Favier, R., Ferretti, G., Kayser, B.,Desplanches,D., Spielvogel, H, Lindstedt, S. 1998. Exercise training in chronic hypoxia has no effect on ventilatory muscle function in humans. Resp. Physiol.112:195-202. Thomas, R.G. 2005.
The hands of time. In Small Farmer’s Journal, Winter Vol 29, Number 3. L. Miller (ed.). Sisters, OR: Small Farmers Journal Inc. Horses on the College Farm: Challenges and Celebrations (2014).
The New Horse Powered Farm. Leslie, S. (ed.), Chelsea, VT: Chelsea Green Press.
Three Books You Recommend?
Farmer Pirate, Lynn Miller–Working Horses, Working Landscapes. The Nature of Horses, Stephen Budiansky–Draft Horse I: Driving Principles A Good Horse Has No Color–Mark Rashid, Draft Horse II: Work Applications.
Draft Animal Power Systems II: Work Applications In this course, students use horsepower to actively manage the College’s farm and forest. Typical work applications include equipment maintenance, logging, sugaring, soil…