Watch the ears

A reporter for the Watertown Daily Times rides along with an Amish man in St. Lawrence County, New York:

The telltale twitch of a horse’s ears may be your only warning before a truck roars by from the rear and shakes the canvas-covered buggy you’re riding in on the shoulder of the highway.

With no rearview mirrors or windows, and the cacophony of hooves hitting the pavement and rattle of the mostly wooden cart masking sounds that would alert you of traffic coming from behind, the ride Amish take every day can be frightening to someone more used to driving in a Buick than a buggy.

Enos M. Hershberger, an Amish man living in DeKalb, gave me the opportunity to experience buggy travel on a recent clear morning. He welcomed me aboard for a trip from the village of Canton — out County Route 27 and Sykes Road — to visit a farm where he was doing some business.

If a vehicle is passing at 50 or 60 mph, it pulls the carriage, he said. “You’ll feel the suction of it.”

This is one of the most vivid accounts of the danger of riding in a horse-drawn vehicle I have read–probably because the reporter actually took the ride himself.

They may refuse the SMV triangle, but good that Enos Hershberger and Enos Miller, two members of this 1500-strong Swartzentruber community, decided to engage with the media for this story.

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    1. Margaret

      I don’t know the Amish take on Pony Club and horse people everywhere will always teach you to look for the ears. The ears swivel all around to catch all sounds. 99.5% horses will lay their ears flat back when they are about to bite! Ears are very expressive! I actually met a set of ponies about twenty years that would put their ears up when they would bite.

      I was in Bird-in-Hand several years ago and stopped at a red light. Horse and buggy pulled up alongside. I spoke to the rose (as is my norm). He finally turned his head all way around to the side to look at me. It was so cute! He was like-“oh this is who’s talking to me”! Kids thought I was half outta my mind! The horse wanted to know who was talking to him, he had been listening to me for a couple of mins. You can tell by the twitch of the ear.

      But admittedly it is dangerous on the road. Where I live the newest signs on the road read “SHARE THE ROAD”. It’s aimed for bike riders who are really bad about NOT sharing the road.

      Sadly I think most people are in such a hurry to get to play hurry up and wait they miss the whole point of a “simpler and plainer” time. Where we all weren’t so rushed 24/7. Surely Amish have just as many problems in their own lives as we do out here. Maybe they aren’t quite the same but then the issues I have compared to others here aren’t the same either. We all want what’s best for our kids and/or the next generation. We worry now about the food chain and possible contamination. Amish worry whether they’ll be rain to feed the crops and if they’ll have a good enough harvest. In some ways Amish have it easier. They don’t have to decide on what movie they want to watch because that it isn’t an option for them. But then worrying about your kids staying in the community and keeping on the good side of the Bishop is a worry I’m sure lots of people have.

    2. Don Curtis

      Horse sense

      I asked my son, Mark, about horse behavior. Of course he was raised in Columbus, Ohio and the only experience he had with horses before joining the Amish were those pony rides where the ponies were chained to a merry-to-round thing and just went ’round and ’round in a circle. Of course he was probably four or five at the time and I’m not sure how much horse sense he picked up from the experience. But, since joining the Amish and having two of his own horses he must have picked up some because his horses seem to be healthy and he drives them all the time without mishap. I asked him about the ears. He said that he always looks out for the horse’s ears. If they are laid back and the horse’s eyes are rolling around it’s “Watch Out Time!” Also, during the winter when you have a whole bunch of horses tied up in box stalls where they have church he never gets in between the horses. Very dangerous. He said that there are some things English people can do to help Amish horse and buggy drivers.
      – If it is a narrow road, SLOW DOWN! If you’re driving like a maniac down a narrow country road with a car and a horse and buggy is coming the other way and the horse gets a little spooked by something (blowing plastic bag, squirrel running across the road) there is no margin for error.
      – Don’t, repeat, Don’t, blow your horn when you go by the horse’s head.
      – Amish eyes are just as sensitive to a car’s bright lights as English people’s. Please dim your lights when approaching a horse and buggy. The buggy probably doesn’t have bright lights to flash at you to remind you. Meanwhile there is an Amish driver blinded and unhappy.
      – Please remember that just because you’re behind a horse and buggy does not mean that you have the automatic right to pass. If a car is coming from the opposite direction this is not a good situation. Mark said that every time that happens he gets another gray hair in his beard.
      – If you’re clear to pass then PASS. Mark remembers he had an old codger driving a whiz-bang of an old truck loaded to the gills with wood. The guy came up behind Mark, who was driving his horse and buggy. The guy swung into the other lane to pass and the truck was so old and the load was so heavy that he was having trouble getting around Mark who was going maybe 10 MPH. The truck was knocking and banging and roaring right along side of Mark’s horse. And this went on for quite a distance. The guy just couldn’t get enough oomph out of the truck to pass. Instead of dropping back he just kept pace with Mark. The horse didn’t take kindly to this and just about put himself, Mark, and the buggy into the ditch.
      – Please refresh your memory as to what hand signals mean. Many horses and buggies don’t have flashing turn signals. If the driver gives you a hand signal please recognize and respect it.

      1. Erin

        Your response about the ponies made me giggle, Don!
        Thanks again for getting Marks input and putting up a few reminders when traveling in Amish Country.

    3. Don Curtis

      Horse sense continued

      – Don’t force Amish people off of the road. Mark had this happen to him. These folks literally forced him off of the road. “Hi, we’re from Michigan. Where can we get Amish noodles.” Mark was not amused. Noodles? He thought he was going to be robbed.

      Just some things to think about when you’re driving in Amish country.

    4. Alice Mary

      Animal sign language

      It’s not just horses who “speak” with their ears…my cat does, too. (As did the many dogs in my life.) Animals have their own “sign language,” for sure!

      I can’t imagine riding in a horse-drawn buggy on a road where cars go that fast (50, 60+ mph, despite what’s “posted” as a speed limit). Makes me want to add a few back roads for horse-drawn vehicles to take (I believe I saw something like that on this blog not too long ago). I suppose it’s necessary in some places/times to drive a buggy in these conditions. It sends shivers up my spine…I know how a little subcompact car like mine can shimmy in the wake of a larger vehicle—those poor horses, and the folks they’re pulling (sure doesn’t sound like a joy ride to me!)

      Alice Mary

    5. Jeannie

      Hey thats near my neck of the woods. Yes it is courtesy to be mindful of who is all on the road, whether they be man and buggy, a lady walking or a bicyclist.. Slow Your Roll and pass with caution. I cant begin to tell you the amount of speeders on these here roads.. no mind about the signs that clearly state.. Caution Children at Play, Blind and Deaf area, Horse and Buggy.. The drivers are restless here and its scary.. I had a guy pass me on the left as I was turning left into my drive way.. I had my signal on befor my road because I live on a corner and I know its dangerous..I often worry for my Swartzentruber Amish neighbors who at times have been passed by some idiot going to fast.. Now in saying that I also worry for their safety at night.. I do wish they would use the triangles… I was coming home late one rainy evening last spring and despite my speed being low I nearly plowed into the back of one near my house by the time I realized they were on the road. PTL I was able to brake befor I did. Each time since then its left a lil fear in me.

    6. OldKat

      RE: Horse Sense

      Don, I am just a few years younger than Mark is. Unlike him, I drive my horses as a hobby & not as my everyday transportation. Also unlike him (apparently anyway) I have been around horses daily for about 5 decades and have been driving them for a good 40 to 45 years. I couldn’t have improved on his comments if I tried, so Mark must be a quick learner and a keen observer.

      The man that was basically my mentor when I was college age and for about 20 years thereafter once told me; “I love horses, really I do. If you fool around with horses though, they will either hurt you or hurt your pocket book”. I think there is a world of truth in that statement. Doesn’t stop me from owning 3 of them right now though. Good thread, Erik.