Monday, April 9, 2012

Maude: Taking Care of Business

I knew of Maude years before I met her, having seen her grazing in the stubble of a corn field or resting in the shade of a large oak with one hind leg cocked beneath her protruding hip, her head hanging low in repose.

Shire Horse on Hill by Kim-Marie Fisher

Maude's home was located along one of two roads that led to my community. Everyone knew Maude. She was an icon of the community and if you were lucky enough to drive by at just the right time, you might see the aging black horse at work.  Maude had lived there forever with her owner, JB Johnson (one never said just 'JB') who had also lived there forever! When I first met JB Johnson he was 75, if he was a day. He was raised in the old home, and after losing his wife and a failed marriage he went back to the homestead to live with his mother. Mama ruled the roost.

Boggy Creek Farmhouse by Camille Olsen

The first time I met Maude was during a school-wide study of energy. Our K-12 school spent the month of January immersed in learning more about energy. One of the concepts we were interested in learning more about was horsepower. One of the high school teachers contacted JB Johnson. He brought Maude to school to help the older students determine what constitutes one horsepower and if Maude could produce 1 horsepower. To calculate the power students determined what weight Maude could lift on a pulley and to what height over what period of time. Maude consistently produced more than 1 horsepower. Go, Maude!

JB Johnson used Maude to plow the fields around the farm. JB Johnson would place a stake at each end of the field. He'd set Maude to plowing and she would walk steadily to the stake and stop when the stake was touching her forehead, right between her eyes. JB Johnson would move that stake over, turn Maude, and she would pull to the stake on the other end of the field. Her rows were straight and true. In fact, JB Johnson explained that any farmer worth his salt would plow his rows perpendicular to the road so everyone passing by could admire the quality of the rows. He claimed that fields with rows running parallel to the road were plowed by amateurs!

Man with Plow Horse, Watercolor by Winslow Homer

But the greatest thing about Maude was her ability to take care of JB Johnson as only a trusted horse companion could. JB Johnson was not allowed to drink at his house. Mama would not condone that sort of behavior. So, JB Johnson and his cronies would meet in the woods, about a mile from the farm house. At some point JB Johnson had dragged an old couch out there and placed it between two massive oak trees. He and his buddies would toss back a few beers and then toss the empties to either side of the couch. The piles grew in pace with the temperature, and periodically JB Johnson, or one of his friends, would come by with a truck and clean the pile out; probably taking them to the scrap yard to get pennies per can that could be used toward the purchase of more beer! Following an evening of drinking JB Johnson was in no condition to drive. However, he would somehow get astride Maude who would plod carefully home. Maude would stop outside the back door to the farmhouse and wait for JB Johnson to fall off or dismount, and then make her way into the barn and her stall.

A White Horse Standing by a Sleeping Man, Pieter Verbeeck, 1652

Maude and JB Johnson have both passed on, but their memories remain. They were both colorful characters that helped define the unique community in which I lived.


  1. In high school, I loved math class. I could look out the window and watch a farmer work his field with a mule.

  2. What a great story! =)
    Thanks! After working outside all day, I enjoyed sitting and reading that!

  3. What a wonderful story. I think I held my breath through this whole thing!

    I want to take you on road trips with me. The miles would just fly past listening to what you have to share.

  4. Thanks for sharing the story, which I assume was set in NY. I was sooooo glad that Maude was not subjected to abuse or mis-use!


  5. A sweet story of a man and his faithful horse. Beautiful paintings to illustrate.

  6. A sweet story of a man and his faithful horse. Beautiful paintings to illustrate.

  7. Beautiful! That is a true friendship! Thank you for writing. I also love your tulip beds!



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