Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sound of Hoof-Beats

Each Sunday morning the sound of hoof beats and the creaking of carriage wheels announces the
assembling of our Amish neighbors for their weekly Meeting.
The Amish do not have church buildings, so their gatherings are held in members' homes, turn-about.
Our house sits atop a gentle knoll above the road which roughly follows the winding of a creek.  To the south is a rise, to the north the road weaves along the bottom land for half a mile before climbing again.
The clopping of horses hooves reaches us before we can see the approach of a buggy from either direction.

When we arrived here in late March and for several months after, Pebbles the Horse was highly intrigued with the doings of these Amish equines.  As the weeks have gone by she has become accustomed and mostly acknowledges their passing by with only a toss of the head.
This morning, about 8, I stood by the front window and watched a black buggy go along the road at a smart clip.  By the time I headed up to feed the barn kittens and serve Pebbles her grain, hoof beats were ringing a crisp tatoo in the chilly air. Four buggies broke over the rise and advanced into the hollow, almost "bumper to bumper."
Pebbles snorted and trumpeted.  She tore up and down her pasture, kicked up her heels in a rodeo buck, turned and charged back toward the barn, head tossing, tail raised.  She even flung out a foreleg in a spritely show of enthusiasm.  As the 4th buggy rounded the curve out of sight she slid to a halt and demanded her grain.  Two more buggies passed in quick succession, but with her mouth busily chomping, she gave them only the roll of an eye.
I was again outside when the first buggy passed on its homeward route late in the afternoon.
I fetched my camera and wondered if I could get close enough to the road for a decent photo--without violating the Amish taboo of "graven images."
I headed across the front lawn toward the lower pasture where J. was gathering roots and branches left from his recent land clearing.
To my delight I watched a black buggy pull off the road onto the verge.

It was Joseph and Delilah stopping for a neighborly word on their way home.
Joseph held the reins, Delilah had a firm grip on the youngest Yoder boy whom she was attempting to keep enfolded in a fleecey lap robe.
We exchanged pleasantries and I asked Joseph about the breed of the buggy horses.
He replied that most are Standard Breds or a S/B cross.
"This is our young horse," he explained, "and he is a Standard bred-Percheron cross."
I asked if I might take a photo if I waited until they pulled onto the road and took it in such a way that the occupants of the buggy wouldn't be seen.
{I often suspect that Joseph appears scandalized by me although he is perfectly at ease with J.}
Delilah was nodding in the affirmative and Joe said he thought that would be alright.
At that moment another buggy caught up and wheeled around the Yoder conveyance, much to the dislike of the young horse in the shafts--who made it clear that he wasn't going to be left behind!
I took the above two photos as Joseph pulled back onto the road.
You may recall my mention that the Yoders have five  small children.
All five were in the buggy, the four older children tucked somehow behind the narrow seat which held their parents and baby brother.
J. related that when he approached the buggy a small black shod foot was poking out and that he tweaked it, producing giggles.

Taken in March--a meeting-bound buggy headed north below our house.

On this summer Sunday a horse and buggy heads up the rise.

In April Joseph and Delilah's home was the gathering place for what is called the Easter Meeting--held on a Friday.

The buggy horses tethered behind the row of carriages.

A closer view of the waiting horses.
I took these from the passenger seat of the car.
Much as I would like better photos, I don't want to give offense.
As I became better acquainted with Delilah she assured me that photos of the horses and buggies are fine.
Amish people don't pose for photos--which leaves me wondering about the many postcard images.

You'd think perhaps we would begin to recognize individual horses--if not different buggies.
J. pointed out a "double" buggy headed home this afternoon.
I felt quite superior as I announced, "That's Eli Herchberger's buggy and that's Barney the Horse!"

Like many children growing up in the 1950's I listened to the radio "cowboy" dramas: The Lone Ranger; Gene Autry.  The sound effects of those far-off days were memorable--if hardly authentic. Hoof-beats had a hollow, wooden sound, but somehow the rythem was about right.

Humans can hardly reproduce that sound of a horses' hooves clopping along the road.
Alfred Noyes in his famous poem, The Highwayman, did it well--I can hear the sound in my mind almost better than it can be articulated.

"Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;

                              Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?

                              Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

                              The highwayman came riding--"

On Thursday, curled up enduring a head cold, I finished re-reading a favorite book, "O, The Brave Music"
by Dorothy Evelyn Smith.
In that book the narrator hears the sound of approaching horses as
"cupper-lup; cupper-lup; cupper-lup."

I can "hear" them both--perhaps the staccato "tlot-tlot" is the cadence of a trotting horse
and "cupper-lup, cupper-lup" the rocking of a canter---I welcome a definition
from those of you who are better authorities on horse-kind.

The former owners of our house placed this weathervane--it seems appropriate for our neighborhood.


  1. What a lovely post. I am fascinated by your tales of the Amish lifestyle, which is SO different to anything I know of here.

    "tlot, tlot" and "cupper-lup" are indeed fair approximations - I can't improve on them this early in the morning anyway! "The Highwayman" is a poem we learned by heart at junior school, and still a comforting favourite of mine.

    I seem to remember their being a certain amount of pride amongst the more competative Amish over their choice of horse . . . it being human nature after all!

  2. How interesting, I love learning about the Amish. Here in England we have in the past, seen TV programmes about their life, but I like to read your stories.

  3. I'm really enjoying getting to know your Amish neighbors as you get to know them. I love horses and would enjoy the clop clopping of buggies coming along. Cute how excited Pebbles was (i wonder if the Amish know you guys as "the English with that frisky horse and those cats in the house").

  4. Always enjoy your posts about the Amish, such a different way of life.
    The Highwayman has always been a favorite poem of mine. Have you ever heard Loreena McKinnett's song of this name, about 10 minutes longs and wonderful.

  5. BB: The Highwayman was a poem my Mother had committed to memory. When I encountered it in high school English Lit she reeled off the verses. J. says that "of course" the Amish men are competative about their horses--just like modern men with their pickup trucks!
    Kath: I'm glad you are enjoying my stories--the neighborhood Amish are an interesting part of our life here.
    QC: Safety issues for the horse adn buggy people are rather an issue--in some places the Amish have resisted having the traingular warning sides on the backs of the buggies. Most of them here have led lights--blue and red--and I suspect some of the men have "adorned" the buggies with a few extra lights.
    The Amish don't approve of animals as pets in the house--Delilah is astonished at my mention of cats who sleep on the bed.
    Janet: Loreena McKinnett is a favorite of mine also--my CD's seem to have been packed away forever but I beleive I do have the one with her version of The Highwayman--I know I've heard it--goose-bumpy!