In the early 1920s, my Grandpa Kopjar immigrated with his wife and children from Europe to start their new life as Saskatchewan farmers. He farmed with horses for a number of years but eventually bought the much sought after tractor. I can only imagine the excitement he felt when he could walk to the yard and simply start the engine. There would be no more harnessing and hitching the horses to the equipment. As long as he had enough fuel, he could plow all day and he was able to get so much more accomplished with this four wheeled piece of machinery.
Advancements in technology have enabled farmers to farm more land, increase productivity, and hopefully increase profits. Mother Nature always holds the trump card when it comes to farming so my father plays by the same set of rules that my Grandpa followed nearly 100 years ago. When it was time to harvest the crop, you looked to the sky and said many prayers hoping the rain would hold off until the grain was in the bin. I watch how quickly my family can harvest 80 acres of wheat and have it in storage. It likely would have taken Grandpa a full day to bind 8 acres and that only got the grain cut—it still needed time to dry and thrashing would follow a week or two down the road.
I joined Dale and Terry on August 11, 2015 at Heritage Park in Calgary to help with the wheat harvest. It was a small one-acre plot in the park that was planted and harvested with horses. I went with the intention of helping stook the bundles that were cut that day. At this point, I didn’t have that many hours behind the lines and I was happy being a stooker. With the field half cut, Dale asked if I wanted to try the binder. I gracefully declined saying I’d stay put on the ground, thanks. Although I didn’t tell him why, my reason for saying no was that I’d held the lines with 4-abreast once before and it was physically too much for me! But no wasn’t an option with Dale that day. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the seat and getting a lesson on the do’s and don’t’s of running the binder. Crawl up here, don’t step on that, hold the lines, put this foot here, push this lever when you want to drop the bundles, don’t over drive the horses, and get moving. Everything I needed to know about driving the binder in a lesson that might have lasted 45 seconds.
I had been behind 4-abreast with the lines in my hand a couple months earlier at a field day in Valleyview. I will not say I was driving them because they were driving me. I felt as though I had little control of the horses and I was simply standing on the culti-mulcher, holding the lines and traveling in circles. The ride lasted fifteen, maybe twenty minutes and my arms were vibrating when I finished. I watched Tyler Setzer driving around the field with eight horses and I remember thinking to myself that I’d likely never have the strength to handle that much horse power. So yeah, when Dale asked if I wanted to drive the binder, I figured I do everyone a favor by staying on the ground.
It is called a comfort zone for a reason. I like my comfort zone and it is so much easier to stick with what you know. Had Dale not pushed me into the seat of the binder, I would still be thinking I am not strong enough to drive 4-abreast. Much to my surprise, driving the binder at Heritage Park was so much easier and I never once felt out of control. Maybe it was because we had Nelly, Shelly, Hank and Pete hitched and I was more familiar with them? Maybe it was because I had a little more confidence? Whatever the reason, I made a few rounds with ease, kept my swaths straight and hardly left a single stalk standing. It was a small field and I was the last one to run the binder so my time in the seat wasn’t long. While I drove, I thought of my Grandpa and how he had harvested his crops in the same way. I had officially become the first Kopjar in nearly 100 years to swath wheat with real old-fashioned horse power. Grandpa died before I was born but I know he would have been so proud of me!
I still have moments of self-doubt when it comes to trying new equipment, driving different horses or simply trying a maneuver like backing up a wagon. Dale, Terry and Rhonda have been awesome at pushing me out of my comfort zone but I need to learn to push myself. I worry about what might go wrong and if something does go haywire, will I be able to handle it? This is where I draw on the advice and experiences of other teamsters. Over the years in my oil and gas job, the company had me complete a couple of expensive personality profiling exercises. Both profiles said the same thing—give me details and I don’t like change unless I’ve had time to consider all the facts. I am not afraid to ask questions about the how to’s or the what if’s when it comes to driving horses or setting up equipment. However, simply gathering all the information and doing nothing with it will not help me improve my skills and become a better teamster. My challenge to myself for the upcoming year will be that I learn to take bigger steps outside my comfort zone. Ask the questions, consider the facts and then put everything I learn into practice. Who knows—maybe I’ll be confident enough at some point this year to ride shotgun beside Tyler when he’s driving eight horses! Maybe…!