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Before tractors became common, farm horses did all the heavy work of a farm. They were wonderful large and strong animals, bred specially for farm work and they could pull quite heavy loads with comparative ease and respond readily to instructions. They were widely known as 'shire' horses, 'cart' horses or 'work' horses.
Probably the hardest work that the farm horses had to do was to pull the heavy reaping machine. Two pairs of horses were employed wherever possible. While one pair worked, the other pair rested in the shade.
The horses were tired and hungry at the end of the working day. They would usually walk at a faster pace homeward bound than they did going to work, because, as they neared the farm their thoughts naturally turned to food and rest.
V. John Batten
In fact 'work horse' was a common term in my family. If my mother felt that she had been working particularly hard with no help from other people who had been lazing around, she would come into a room and announce, "Here comes the work horse".
At the end of a gruelling and probably boring time in the fields, the men had to tend to their horses before themselves.
I remember a lovely farm horse which had furry ankles and an enormous flat back on which I said I could do ballet! I was very young at the time.