Real Horsepower

Along with his draft horses Duke and Shorty, David Burnette teaches kids about the big benefits of old-time ways. Photo by Matt Rose.

David Burnette can remember plenty of kids and adults who’ve tried to plow with his Percheron draft horses at past opening-day celebrations at the Cradle of Forestry.

They grab the plow and feel the strength of the towering horses, named Duke and Shorty (which is the equivalent of calling a 300-pound-man Tiny), as they turn the dirt in the garden.

One volunteer sticks out. The lady went out for a jog and dropped by the event on a whim. “She ended up running the plow up and down,” Burnette recalls. “That was probably the furthest thing from her mind when she left home that morning.”

For return visitors, the sight of Burnette’s horses signifies the arrival of spring. The Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest is the site of the first forestry school in America, and was founded in 1898.

Burnette and his wife, Diane, who have volunteered at the event for more than a decade, live in Canton and work their own land with the horses, too.

“We try to do as much as we can with the horses, but we don’t do near all of it,” says Burnette, who’s done farm work most of his life. “We grow about an acre of sorghum to make molasses, and we do all the weeding and sometimes all the pre-plowing with the horses. We do all of the cultivating with them.”

The garden that the Burnettes and volunteers plow at the Cradle of Forestry will then be planted and cared for by more volunteers.

“We want our visitors to see the sort of things that would be typical of a garden during the days of subsistence farms in the area,” says Cindy Carpenter, Forest Service Education and Interpretation Program Manager. Plowing with horses “is something people have experienced for generations before. It’s a way for people to bring the past to life, and folks can try it their way and then the old way,” she adds

Along with the plowing demonstration, and in typical Cradle of Forestry style, traditional crafters will show what they do, as well, and live banjo music picks up in the afternoon hours. Visitors can also check out the 1882 cabin and a replica of the commissary that was there during the forestry school, or walk the paved trails around the property — all permanent Cradle attractions.

“It’s a chance to use your imaginations to the way things used to be in a simpler time,” Carpenter says. “There was still technology going on [back then] — but people [remained] connected to the land. We’re reminded of it everyday, but we’re somewhat removed from that.”

Old-Time Plowing & Folkways Day opens the season at the Cradle of Forestry, 11250 Pisgah Highway in Pisgah Forest, on Saturday, April 9. 9am-4pm. $5. 828-877-3130.             


  • Courtney Long says:

    Thank you from the Cradle of Forestry for this great article on our Opening Day and Dave’s horses. We are so appreciative of the Burnettes and their involvement with the public, allowing folks to take a turn at plowing our small heritage garden each year.

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