pictured above: Bob Brhel and Gould Hoyt
Connor: How did you first find out about Paul Smith’s College?
Bob: I first heard about the school when I was a junior in high school from an upperclassmen who intended to attend Paul Smith’s. Our fathers belonged to the same rod and gun club. So we both shared that conservation background together.
Connor: How did you get involved with the draft horses at Paul Smith’s?
Bob: That didn’t happen until after I came to work for the college. Gould Hoyt had retired three years earlier, but he was still maintaining the barn and the school’s two horses, and his two-horses at the barn. I started to go down and chat with Gould and I would help with him with the barn chores. In conversation he said, “Well if you’re going to clean up after the horses you might as well learn to drive them so you have some enjoyment.” And that’s where it started, back in 1988.
C: Can you tell me more about Gould?
B: Gould was always known as the horse guy. He used the school horses in silviculture class and in introduction to forestry class. Back then the horses were used very heavily in silviculture because the kids actually managed an acre of land, and some plots were reserved for the horses. The forestry club at the time was selling balsam bows for a Jewish holiday in September, Rosh Hashanah I believe, so they used the horses to harvest the balsam. And then they would bring the balsam bows out and sell them. That was a huge money maker for the club. A lot of those proceeds went towards building the forestry cabin. Gould started working in ‘52 at the college, and in ‘56 he borrowed a horse from an employee to use in the classes. In the early 60s he convinced the school to buy their own team.
C: Where do you see the draft horses in the future?
B: Looking ahead I can see a bright future for the horses, especially if can get the sustainability major up and running to its full capacity. Especially in the sustainable agriculture class – we could use them as a practical experience in the summertime up in the garden or at the Boy Scout camp, doing various agricultural applications such as plowing, mowing, disking and so on. I also see the possibility of adding an upper level draft horse class to focus in on logging or agricultural work. There’s a big demand for training facilities for people to learn how to use horses in various aspects. I think we can tap into that market, if we’re proactive.
C: Could you see a draft horse minor in the future?
B: I can. The school’s trying to get away from minors. But I think the avenue might be a certificate program. There’s already a facility in Virginia called ‘Draftwood’ and they run a biological woodsmen program which certifies horse loggers. I think we could tap into that for kids in the Northeast.
C: Bob previously we’ve talked about a skidding event you went to in southern New York. Where was that again?
B: Yes – around Trumansburg.
C: Could you see student’s competing there in the future?
B: Most definitely! That was my intent – to go down and check things out, see how it was run and organized, and see if our students would have the skills necessary to compete and compete well. And by all means they could. It was a very welcoming group of people. They follow us on the draft horse Facebook page, so they knew all the activities that the kids were doing prior to me going down there. They would just love for us to go down. I’m thinking of entering the competition and offering it to any student who has driving experience and wants to participate. I also made contacts with other horse owners and they said they would let students drive their horses as well. So they could get more experience with a larger team. It was well run. I’m really excited about taking students down there next year.
C: Final question, who’s your favorite horse? Lady of Fee?
B: That’s…boy…that’s a tough question. I’m more partial to Fee but in certain situations I would pick Lady over Fee. Especially for single horse log skidding. Lady is a little more laid back, quieter. She doesn’t get as excited as Fee does when it comes being used singly. But Fee responds much better to me and she’s rock solid. She’s really the foundation of that team.