Working Horses

Working Horses

“Renaissance of working horses. Benefits of using horses in farming and forestry.” conference report.

See the gallery – working horses

The conference was organized by ICPPC in the Museum of Ethnography, Krakow, on 6 November 2007. It was accompanied by a photography exhibition entitled “Relationship between humans and working horses”.

There were around 50 participating delegates, mainly from Malopolska (South Poland), but also from Wielkopolska (Western Poland) and Pomorze (North Poland) regions. There were farmers, hobbiests, scientists, ecological activists and journalists.

An introducion was given by Jadwiga Łopata who welcomed speakers of the conference: Ryszard Kolstrung, Stanisław Baraniok and Julian Rose. She also reminded participants about the first show of working horses and modern farming equipment which took place in Lapanow community and was also organized by ICPPC in May 2007. As an appetizer for a further work and lectures she read a part of ICPPC publication titled “Renaissance of working horses”.

Jadwiga was moderating the conference. She also gave interviews to Radio ZET and national TV’s ‘Express’ programme and several newspapers.

The next speaker was Sir Julian Rose, who started in polish, presenting what he learned from polish farmers in the human-horse communication (‘prrr’, ‘veeshtaa’, ‘vyo’ – are the commands given to the horse) which was very much applauded by the audience. Then already seriously, he gave a speach about the upcoming energy crisis and oil peak theory. He said that the work horse would prove essential once diesel became too expensive, which he believed it would in the near future.He made the point that paradoxically, many Malopolska farmers currently thought of as ‘backward’, appear to be at the vanguard of an ecological, healthy way of food producing. He advocated mutual help between polish farmers, primarily in grain storage and seed exchange, but also in maintainig the farming gear for horse work. Julian Rose presented the results of British researches which show that the nutritional value of food has been declining since WW II, the era of the introduction of intensive agriculture industry to the countryside. Nowadays we produce a greater amount of food but with half the valuable nutritious vitamins. He therefore advocated the retention of strong varieties of non-hybrid native seeds.

Another speaker was professor Ryszard Kolstrung who made a presentation entitled “Horses as a resource of a clean energy”. He is a member of Polish Association of Users and Friends of Working Horses. He started with a history of the horse- and animal power. Acording to him 33% of the beast of burden used all around the world are horses (the rest are mules, donkeys, dogs, etc.). He focuses on horses because of the polish great tradition of horse work and the whole culture surrouding the use of horsepower. For a long time horses were not used for the farm works, they were mainly used for shows and for battles between the upper classes of society. Mr. Kolstrung pointed out that the whole horse culture is a very important heritage. He described the relationship between humans and working horses, underlining how it manifests even in the language (a working horse described by farmers as a work companion vs a meat horse not even called as a horse

He mentioned a period after WW II when horses saved polish family farms, and were a strong argument against collectivisation of the land. These days farmers from post-soviet union countries are buying horses, know-how and even very old equipment for horse farming, from polish farmers.

Mr. Kolstrung also compared the impact of heavy machinery and horses on the soil during field work. (among others: the interference of machinery is greater because of it’s weight and also tractor exhaust fumes.

Horses save energy, as heavy machinery always uses a great amount of fuel for implement hauling, whereas it is possible to regulate the number of horses used in pulling or draging a burden.

Unfortunately in Poland, the professions connected with horse rural culture have been disappearing (for ex. blacksmiths). There are emerging new companies which produce hi-tech, expensive equipement for hobbiests, but there are less and less producing just for ordinary farmers. Much of the old farming equipement is given away, trashed or sold abroad.

Dispite of above Richard Kolstrung listed symptoms of a heavy horse renaissance in Europe:

  • There have been created new farms, orchards and gardens which restrict use only to horsepower and introduce themselves as ecological and healthy food producers.
  • Forestry and communal services introduce horsepower. There are some protected areas like the national parks where heavy machinery is prohibbited and horses are in use.
  • Companies which produce modern horse gear are developing.Special services and workshops which offer training in horse farming are emerging.
  • New organizations have been established which bring together horse breeders, for ex. USA in 1980, Switzerland in 1991, Germany in 1992, Finland in 1993.
  • New magazines started to be published , like english “Rural Haritage” or german “Starke Pferde”
  • Shows of horse gear and farming are being organized: in USA since 1980, in Germany since 1999.
  • FECTU (Fédération Européenne du Cheval de Trait pour la promotion de son Utilisation – European Draught Horse Federation) was established.

 Then Mr. Kolstrung presented modern “cooperating devices”, among others:

  • for ploughing and harrowing
  • for mowing
  • mechanized fore-carriage with an engine and hydraulic lift
  • and a communal works, a garbage truck and dustcart.

 And finally he presented different sports and recreation activities which emerged from the working horses culture as for example “Pulling” which is popular in the western farmlands, but not known in Poland (there was only one competition like that carried out in Poland till now).

After a presentation of Prof. Kolstrung Jadwiga Łopata invited participants to view the photo exhibition which you can also see [here] and in the break organic food and refreshments were served.

The next lecturer was Stanislaw Baraniok from stud in Wilekopolska region. He bought a farm 3 years ago, holding 11 horses on 5 hectares. All works on his farm are done with the help of horse power. He is also collecting old horse equipment, reparing and reusing it. This part of the conference was mostly focused on the exchanging views, knowledge, and experience between farmers and horse users. Stanislaw Baraniok said that now in Poland live population of 300-350 thousand horses, and it’s possible to grow (as in 1984 there was 1,3 milion horses in Poland). But he also stressed that a high population of horses is not as important as the effectivness of using the horses. He also presented projects of his and other horse breeders in Wielkopolska. One of them is a publication entitled “Renaissance of working horses in Wielkopolska” which will take the name from the ICPPC campaigne.

The summary of conference was given by Julian Rose, who one more time, underscored the importance of horse power in an upcomming energy crisis. He turned attention to the matter of versatility of polish farmers, who can do all works from making a horse shoe, through mantaning all the gear, trading, and doing the office jobs connected with running a small company and tax system. While, as he said, in Britain people are taught to specialize in one aspect. He sees this ability of polish farmers as their big advantage on european markets. He wished them luck.

The day after the conference, the exhibition was moved to the Małopolska Voivodship Office main building, where it can be visited in the main hall till 6th of December. After this the exhibition will be sent to Wielkopolska Province to be presented there.

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Farm labor



Consumption rate of fuel

1 gallon/h


Price of diesel fuel



Farm size

25 acres


Investment, initial for horses

$ 8.000


Investment, initial for tractor

$ 15.000


Additional labor, horses

20% (0,2)


Residual value of PTO cart

$ 500


Tractor or team hours per acre per year

20 h


Manure value

$ 365


Year in farm career (age 25 to 65)

40 years


Operational cost for tractor, tires, oil, filters, etc.

$ 250/year


Replacement cost for tractor

$ 15.000


Operational cost for 2 horses, feed, vet, etc.

$ 730/year


Replacement cost for horses

$ 1.600


Sales of horse progeny (4/5 x 2 x 1.000)/rok

$ 1.600


Value at end of useful life, horses

$ 2.000


Usable life of horses and tractor (5.000 hours)

10 years


Trade in vallue on tractor

$ 5.000

The career cost of using a tractor = initial cost + replacements + operating cost – trade in value = I+(Px(N/U-1))+Nx(O=(DxCxLxF))-(N/UxV)

The career cost of using horses = initial cost + replacements + operating cost and extra labor – value of manure and progeny – value for the horses and PTO cart at the end of their useful life = H+(Rx(N/U-1))+Nx(Q+(AxJxLxF))-Nx(S+M)-(N/UxT)-K

Using this model, a tractor powered sustainable farm over a 40-year career would have costs of $90.000 and total revenues (trade-in on old tractors every 10 years) of $20.000, for a net cost of $70.000 associated with using the tractor.

A horse powered farm over 40-year career would have total costs of $61.200 and total revenues $82.300, for a net revenue of a $21.100 associated with using horses.

The conference and the exhibition recived patronage from  1st Vicegovernor of Malopolska  Mr Andrzej Mucha

The conference and the exhibition is a part of a project „STRENGTHENING THE SOCIAL POSITION OF FARMERS USING HORSE POWER. Revaluing the importance of the workhorse.” sponsored by: 


Sendzimir Foundation –  Rossauer Laende 25/4, 1090 Vienna, Austria

Fondation pour une Terre Humaine – 15 route de Fribourg, 1723 Marly 2, Suisse


Polish Association of Users and Friends of Working Horses