There is this boy…who I didn’t know I would fall in love with.
The first time I saw Big Jim it was an early winter morning. The temperature in the truck said it was -20 below. I found myself in a thick forest covered in snow and ice. As I wondered how my husband and I landed in this frozen wonderland I looked over to see an impressive horse tied to a tree. He was 18 hands tall, weighed no less than 2,00 pounds. The white Percheron was adorned with a heavy leather harness and pulling yoke contrasting perfectly with his soft fluffy white winter coat. He stood perfectly still as a chainsaw ran loudly next to him tearing through a nearby tree. Before I knew it a giant tree was falling in the woods. An impressive crash, and the crunching of branches and tiny trees ended in a huge thud of the tree hitting the frozen ground. I looked over to see the big white horse, he had not moved a muscle. Eyes perfectly calm, not phased at all by an event that would have sent any other horse I had ever know running for the hills. Jim got right to work. A large log would be attached to a chain behind him. A loud and sharp “get up Jim” from his owner sent Jim into a pull that created another set of fireworks. Jim would carefully and aggressively maneuver down steep, snowy, windy hills all the while pulling a heavy log. A few clear voice commands and his sheer strength was all it took to accomplish what could not have been an easy task. As we reached the bottom of the hill the chain would be unhooked and Jim would head back up the hill for another log.
That was not before the only lady in the woods was tossed way up onto of his back, so she didn’t have to hike up the hill herself. Let me just say that this pleased me to the point that I forget that I was almost frozen to death. I had never been on a horse so tall. I was closer to heaven on his back.
Log after log Jim pulled with skill down that hill returning back up the hill without any direction or force from his driver. He knew his job perfectly and sweat was steaming on his back into the cold air. This was my first experience seeing a work horse do a job quite like this. The connection between Jim, and his owner was a force to be recon with. Both of them worked equally hard in the woods to complete a job that day without a thought of the cold or a single complaint. I had learned a whole new respect for loggers, their horses, and the heart of a pulling horse.
After the work was done we got the opportunity to sit and chat about Jim’s story. Jim was 12 years old at the time and had grown up skidding logs through the woods with his sister who had been a perfect match. Sadly, his sister passed away and his owner did not want to rematch him. He had been puling alone and this job was meant for a team of two. One look at my husband and I knew that Jim was going to come home with us. We didn’t need a logging horse but we were on the hunt for a companion for our only other horse on the farm at the time. My husband was sold on this manly horse and I agreed that I could stand to look this beautiful horse in our pasture every day. We would take him home and drive him around the property, maybe use him to help clean up the farm. The 2 horse bumper pull horse trailer that we had brought along was not going to work conventionally due to Jim’s size. We removed the divider and Jim fit in just fine as long as he stood sideways. He took up the entire trailer.
We stopped along the way during our 4 hour drive to check on Jim. I would run into the gas station and grab a small bag of carrots or an apple treat for Jim during his long ride home. Interestingly enough, he had no idea what carrots or apples were, and he was confused by the handful of treats in my hand each time I opened the trailer door.
When Jim arrived home we were thrilled to unload him and put him in the pasture with his new friend Toby. This was the first time in my life that I had thrown a new horse in the pasture and there were no fireworks. None. Nothing happened. They went to eating hay and the introduction was amazingly uneventful. We had recently lost a horse and Toby, who was the lonely horse in the pasture, really needed a friend. Both horses were missing their partners and both horses seemed just as pleased to have each other. It was a very sweet day for all involved.
I was shocked to find that, what was a normal daily routine for any of our saddle horses, seemed to be totally foreign to Jim. Everything from taking treats, to going in and out of a stall each night, to being brushed seemed peculiar to Jim. The more I got to know him the more I realized that he had never been treated like a pet before. He was clearly very well taken care of, but he had a job. He must have been taken out to complete a task, fed , watered, and returned to his pasture. He had never had a spa day, been taken out for a walk to eat grass, worked in an arena, brushed for the sheer purpose of time well spent.
I was not sure that an 18 hand Percheron would be the best choice for this 5ft 3in cowgirl who knew nothing about draft horses. He was so big, so strong. I would be at the mercy of this giant creature any time he moved. I mean, how could this mighty horse aggressively pull those logs out of the woods for hours and have any care in the world for the tiny human standing next to him? How would we get along, I couldn’t even reach his head to get his halter on. But strangely enough he turned out to be one of the calmest, kindest, easiest horses to be around that I have met in my 36 years of being around horses. Jim and I formed a very quick bond that has led to an amazing friendship. I am reminded that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. He had turned this quarter horse type cowgirl into a draft horse fan in almost no time at all.
Jim came home and my husband spent time driving him, giving cart rides and pulling the occasional log around the farm. My husband’s busy schedule didn’t allow for a lot of extra time with Jim. Lucky for me, the keeper of the barn animals, Jim eased into his new life of not so hard work and I was the lucky one who got to spend my extra time with Big Jim.
The kids and I quickly found spending time with Jim to be a completely joyful event and Jim quickly realized that any time one of us was near him that we either had treats, dinner, hugs or love to share.
I’ve never seen a horse appreciate a grooming, a bath, clipping, or work sessions quite like Jim. Some days I wonder if Jim is fully aware of the fact that he hit the work horse jackpot when he landed at our house!?
The kids started falling for the big white draft horse and coined the name Big Jim. I was shocked at his mellow personality and pure joy for any ounce of attention he could get. He seemed to relish any moment that we were willing to spend with him. The calm demeanor of this gentle giant led to hours and hours of brushing, pony rides, and memorable moments with our kids.
I will forever have fond memories of my little kids and nieces and nephews doting over the big grey Percheron, painting him for the 4th of July, Jim carrying them carefully on his back. Looking back at them as if he appreciates the tiny little brush strokes as far up as their short arms can reach.
Jim is happy to please and seems to enjoy not having to work very hard. It took about 2 round pen lessons for him to learn to join up and follow my every move. With a slight pressure on the top of his nose he will drop his head to allow me to reach his head. He is by far the easiest horse in our barn to clip, bathe, work with, and ride. He has no use for spooking or trying to get out of any job you give him. Somehow I feel like he appreciates the lovely easy life we have given him. He returns the favor by being a good calm buddy for everyone at our place. Not a human has stepped foot into our barn that has not fallen in love with Big Jim just like I have.
As Jim’s years at our place wore on…we found that he was working less and enjoying more. Days of pulling the cart turned to hot days standing in the sprinkler. Spa days, good brushings, pony rides and play dates with an occasional short cart ride. It has always felt good to take care of the sweet soul. Never have I ever felt so appreciated by a horse.
I am forever in awe of his beauty. Every time I look out to the pasture and see him grazing in a lush green pasture I am reminded of how hard work pays off. Each day we have the opportunity to wake up and do the hard things, get the work done and also be good and kind to others just like Jim. Having a lot of power or strength is useless if we can’t work together and be kind and gentle to one another.
Big Jim was the boy I never knew I would fall in love with.
Jim is proof that there is so much power in being kind, forgiving and strong. These days Jim and I go for nice slow arena rides. My daughter loves to sit waaaay up there and trot, his huge strides make her smile and laugh every time. I feel so blessed to have crossed paths with this magnificent creature who’s heart is as big as his hooves. I love tucking him in at night in his clean safe stall. Every night I leave the barn and turn out the light to him hanging his head over the stall door, eyes begging for just one more pet. He is a gentle giant in the truest sense. Big Jim – His Heart is as Big as his Hooves!