Horse work began at age 10 with wife’s grandfather
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Kenny Rahn of Burtrum has always liked horses, since he was big enough to pet them. He was 10 when he started cultivating corn with a team, working for Claude Johnson in Grey Eagle Township. Johnson taught him all he knows about horses.
Johnson’s son-in-law, Zerl Clay, was in the Navy, but the family returned to Minnesota for visits, which is how Kenny met and got to know Joan Clay, the young woman who became his wife.
The Rahns have been married for 53 years and have always had horses. Now the barn’s largest residents are Minnie, Emma and Patty, three large Belgian horses. Minnie is 18 hands high, which is the same as six feet.
Kenny retired about six years ago from truck driving, but still cultivates some acreage. He drove for Toenyan Oil in Melrose for 23 years. His son, Dave, then bought the company.
“I worked for my son for a year until he got the hang of it, then I retired,” said Kenny.
Joan and Kenny also ran a harness shop in the basement of their house. They made equipment for themselves and sold some, too. When he retired, Kenny sold the business to cousins David and Eddie Schwarzentruber of Round Prairie.
“When the boys were home, we used two to three tractors, too in addition to the horses, but 75 percent of the work we did was with the horses,” Kenny said. “With them, we planted corn, oats and alfalfa on more than 200 acres.”
This year he planted 18 acres in grains to feed the horses, which often leaves some left over to sell.
“Sometimes I cut hay with the horses, if I have the time. If not, then I just take the tractor,” he said. “I like to use the horses for the garden because they don’t pack the ground down like a tractor does.”
Kenny and the horses mark the garden rows vertically and horizontally. There is not so much weeding then, since he can use the rototiller going both ways; the plants are lined up in both directions.
“We grow sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes and cabbage, and other vegetables. Our kids all get garden produce from us — we just enjoy doing it,” he said.
Other food is raised on the farm too, including six steers. Chickens are carefully guarded by two roosters.
Kenny still uses a tractor for the harder work such as field plowing, but he enjoys playing with the horses.
He didn’t just maintain horses to work; he also raised horses to sell. “The largest number of horses we had at one time was 17, and that included Percherons and Belgians,” he said.
“Once two or three-year-old colts were broken to work in harness, we would sell them as a team, but the vet costs got so high that if there was any trouble, we had more money in a colt than it was worth,” Kenny said.
He wishes he’d kept track of all the horses he owned. “We got some that were half spoiled, but we’d get them going good, trained well, and then resell them,” he said.
Kenny has a “people hauler” which can carry 18 people. He has used that in Long Prairie and Sauk Centre for weddings, and even for funerals.
“One friend, a horse guy like me, told his son as one of his last wishes, ‘See if Kenny will get me to the cemetery,’” he said. “And I did.”
“You’d be surprised at how many people stop to watch when I have the horses out,” he said. “It’s a slower pace; you can hear the birds sing when using the horses.”