It has been six months since the death of the last of the two draft horses at Frying Pan Farm Park’s Kidwell Farm, and the search continues for a team of horses to replace Jesse, who passed last year, and Michael, who died in 2013. Particularly after Michael’s death, Jesse was one of the farm’s most popular attractions.
Prior to Jesse’s death, Frying Pan had draft horses for more than three decades. The park uses draft horses to pull wagon rides and other antique farm equipment for demonstrations. They fit well under Frying Pan’s mission to preserve a piece of Fairfax County’s rural heritage on the working demonstration farm. Kidwell Farm recreates the era from 1920 to 1950, when family dairy farms blanketed the county landscape.
Although Michael and Jesse had not been doing much work for the past few years, they were still popular with children and adults alike. “These animals were beloved,’’ said Park Manager Yvonne Johnson. Up until his death, Jesse still wanted to be petted and scratched.
The search for a new team began after Jesse’s death so as not to upset him, Johnson said. Jesse was 35 when he died, and it took a lot of work to care for him. Johnson said the park is committed to taking care of the draft horses for life, even after they can no longer work.
No one at the park knows how long it will take to find the right team. The ideal draft team will be a well-broken duo of geldings between 7 and 12 years old, able to work for 15 years, added Farm Manager Paul Nicholson.
The horses have to be able to pull wagons, take part in demonstrations and work in the crop fields. They must be comfortable around children and be able to tolerate noises and lots of activity. And they have to be in top-notch physical condition, so retired horses need not apply.
Frying Pan is looking in the Amish community, scouring livestock auctions and networking. Nicholson said two other parks in the region also are looking for draft horses, and they are sharing resources.
Johnson said, “This is a big deal, a major undertaking. Kids get very attached to the horses.” They are one of the few animals the farm keeps long term, and the staff is looking for a young healthy team that can handle the rigors of a working farm. That’s not easy to find.
In the meantime, park staffers are being retrained to work with a team because it’s been a few years since they’ve had working horses.
The fields, stalls and wagons are ready. “We’re just waiting for the right team,’’ Nicholson said.
Author Lori K. Weinraub is a volunteer writer for the Park Authority and a former national journalist for The Associated Press.