Why some P.E.I. loggers still use horses — not trucks — to clear dead trees

A handful of people are continuing a tradition that's been carried out for generations on P.E.I. — horse logging.

'It's just good for the soul, good for the woods, good for the environment'

There are only a handful of horse loggers on P.E.I. who use their horses to haul freshly cut trees from the deep woods. (Pat Martel/CBC)
Scott Taylor harnesses up his huge 12-year-old Percheron horse, Mike, and they head off into to the woods. They're continuing a tradition that's been carried out for generations on P.E.I. — horse logging.

"The first time I went into the woods with horses, I was 12 years old and it was with my father and my late grandfather," said Taylor, 36. "I learned everything I know from them."

Scott and his father Kevin Taylor are working together, thinning a woodlot in Caledonia, P.E.I. 

"This is the best place in the world to be," said Kevin, as he walks through the woods, looking for poor quality trees to cut down with his chain saw, while Scott and his horse drag the logs to a clearing. 

It would be quicker and perhaps easier to use an ATV or truck, but the Taylors prefer to use horses to haul logs. 

"It's just a nice experience," Scott said. "If you're on a tractor, you're hearing the roar of the engine but out here, it's away from the hustle and bustle of the city."

Kevin Taylor, left, has passed the tradition down to his son Scott. (Pat Martel/CBC)

On this day, the Taylors are joined by Roger MacLeod and his two Belgian horses, Matilda and Sasha. They are working on private land, but Roger and Kevin have contracts from the province to use horses to thin out trees on Crown land. 

A decade ago, in an effort to rejuvenate the woods with as little disturbance as possible, the P.E.I. forestry department put out tenders to horse owners to clear trees the old-fashioned way. A handful of people signed on back then, but Roger and Kevin are the only ones still working on Crown land.

Roger MacLeod says it's a good way for the horses, and himself, to get exercise. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"They watch us to make sure we're doing everything right," Kevin said. "Of course, we were taught that by our grandparents. We could cut this down in two days if we had harvesters, but we'd like to come back again. When we leave here, you'd hardly ever know we were in here."

Horse loggers pay the province $10 for every cord they cut.

Kevin Taylor and Roger MacLeod have contracts with the province to clear unhealthy trees on Crown land. (Pat Martel/CBC)

It's well worth it for the Taylors.

"All the fields were cleared and the buildings were built with the lumber that they hauled out, so they definitely earned their keep over the years," Scott said. 

Gathering their own wood also means lower home heating costs.

"My oil bill would be quite substantial," Scott said. "Right now it's zero with the use of the horses." 

The loggers pay the province $10 for every cord they cut. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Like his son, Kevin recalls working in the woods as a boy with his father and grandfather.

"We always had a lunch in the woods, we made our own dinners, cooked tea and we had a team of horses."

Even back then, horse loggers respected the land and avoided cutting younger trees, Kevin said.

"We were taught to cut what needed to be cut, the crooked stuff, the stuff that was dying. And that's what us horse loggers try to teach our kids. And they're doing it."

The horses have to trot at least a kilometre through the fields to get to the woods where they will be hauling logs. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Kevin is already passing the tradition down to his 12-year-old grandson.

"We're horse people," he said. "It's just good for the soul, good for the woods, good for the environment. Just because it's old, doesn't mean it's bad."

MacLeod with two Belgian horses, Matilda and Sasha, and the Taylors with their Percheron, Mike. (Pat Martel/CBC)