Sweet talking a reluctant farmhand

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By Janny Wilcke

My husband is always careful to lavish praise on me whenever I help him with a chore around our farm.  “You are one in a million!” he will rave if I assist the veterinarian on a day when he can’t be home. “I picked a peach when I picked you,” he coos as I hold up boards or wire while he repairs fence. “A guy’s lucky to have a gal like you,” I’ll hear, sweat dripping down my face, as we drive back after pulling the truck or some machine out of a ditch. “Super job, babe! Great work!”

While I enjoy this praise, I’m not fooled. As our children are grown and moved away, I’m the only farmhand he has. He needs me and thinks the way to my heart is still through honey-coated words. The joke is, it works, and over the years I have brought in hay, kept watch over cows about to calf and mares about to foal, fixed lots of fence, and handled any number of farm and household emergencies.

The one chore at which I routinely cringe is helping to load the trailer. I’ll do it, but the loading of trailer-shy animals, especially horses, is one of the scariest jobs I am ever asked to do. Ours are not loaded frequently enough to make it a simple job, so I really need all of his sweet talk to agree to this one.

I am the one who leads the mare or young horse into the trailer — assuming he or she will cooperate. My husband coaxes from the other end. The image of a 1,200-pound animal bounding at me is the reason for my reluctance. Often they are resistant so when they finally do load, it is with an attitude and not a very nice one. I, of course, can go in only one direction – backward, and I always picture myself flattened

against the gate or the sidewall of the trailer like a test-crash dummy.

My husband, engrossed at the hind end in persuading the horse to jump in, does not appear to worry about my welfare. He assumes, I suppose, that I will duck out of the way but there is no place to ‘duck.’ Our garden-variety stock trailer is not equipped with escape doors, so the only place I can go is to the side or, if closed, up and over the center gate. I am not young anymore, but my fear of all that muscle and bone releases sufficient adrenaline so that – knock on wood – I have never yet failed to get up that gate and over the top. I have no interest in standing my ground.

As much as I hate being at the forequarters, I never take charge of the aft. Nor do I share my husband’s assurance that a hefty dose of four-letter words helps to accomplish the job – though, under duress, I have sort of given that theory a try.  While my husband has a lifetime of experience with horses, I’ve always been wary due to encounters in my youth. As a girl, when I was learning to ride, I paid closest attention to advice on the best way to fall off when the inevitable came.

So it is no wonder that, horses loaded and the job safely accomplished, I don’t wait for my husband to tell me what a great farmhand I am. I jump in first: “You are lucky to have me,” I tell him, “and don’t you forget it!”