There’s something special about farming the fields like in the “good ol’ days” — with a team of horses.
“It’s a whole different pace than when you use the tractor,” Don Copa, 71, of Little Falls said.
Every year, Copa plows, plants and works five acres with his four Belgian mares, Ruth, Dixie, Misty and Polly. The horsedrawn equipment he uses is nearly 100 years old.
“I do it every year to see if I can still do it and to show the grandkids,” Copa said.
At the farm, Copa mainly plants hay, corn and potatoes. He recently harvested the potatoes. It didn’t take very long to dig them up with the 1920 International Harvester, model 6.
Even though the Harvester can be pulled by only two horses, Copa prefers to use all four.
“They’re smaller Belgians, so it isn’t as heavy for them when I use all four,” he said.
When Copa harvests the potatoes, his grandchildren are often there to help pick them up.
“They just sit there and wait for me to pass by with the horses, so they can pick them up,” he said.
The best part of farming with horses is the peace and solitude it brings him. The slower pace gives him time to relax, ponder and just enjoy life, Copa said.
“It’s very peaceful. That is, until you hit a rock and it kind of bounces you out of your seat. It really wakes you up then,” Copa said.
Copa learned to drive a team of four horses abreast from his dad, Martin. Growing up on a dairy farm, that was just how farming was done.
“Dad didn’t get a tractor until 1947. It was a Ford. I got it back, but gave it to my boy,” Copa said.
For many years Copa raised Belgian horses until his wife, Pat, died in 2002.
“When she passed away and I was just by myself, I cut back on the mares and sold the stud,” Copa said.
His love for Belgian horses goes back to Copa’s childhood. It was the breed his dad used on the farm.
“I like their quiet nature. They’re calm,” he said.
Throughout his life, Copa has had Belgian horses. However, his first horse was an American paint.
“Your riding horses are a lot quicker on their feet than the drafters. I bought my first horse when I was in grade school,” he said.
Besides farming with Belgian horses, Copa carries on another tradition his dad started — collecting old horse equipment. His yard is full of several pieces, such as plows, discs, Harvesters and more.
One of the challenges with collecting old horse equipment is finding parts for them. Since a lot of scrap metal was sold a few years ago when the price was high, it has become harder, he said.,
“Sometimes you just have to make your own part,” Copa said.
Many times restoring antique equipment means learning its history. It can get quite interesting, he said.
Once Copa has restored a piece of equipment, he will hitch up his team of horses to make sure it works.
When Copa isn’t using his team for farming, he likes to travel with them to various cities across Minnesota for fairs, field days and other events.
During the winter months, he likes to take out family and friends on sleigh rides.
One thing Copa really enjoys is how close his daughter, Amy Siegler and his son, Kurt Copa live.
“At first we weren’t sure how that would work out, but you can tell by the well-used trail through the woods how well it did,” he said.
As Kurt’s and Amy’s houses are only within half a mile of Copa’s house, it is a path often traveled between their houses.
Living close to his children has also allowed him to see his five grandchildren more. It is something he enjoys.
A video of Copa harvesting is available online at www.mcrecord.com.