Year round these noble creatures provided hard work, pleasure, and entertainment. Winter posed all kinds of transportation problems. Along with too much snow, or lack of snow. Ice would form after the snow was rolled with wooden rollers wide enough to pack the snow, hampering a horses footing. Spring and Fall would create ruts and mud. All of this played a role in the efficiency people traveled, and how timely mail and goods were delivered.
Wooden plank roads were built in some parts of the valley which may have alleviated travel at least for the mud season. The horse, in the short summer season, ran in area races and pleasure riding was available from the stables at High Rock Lodge in Sacandaga Park in 1900.
In February 1899 horse racing took place on the ice on the Sacandaga River. The clipping is titled “Racing on the Sacandaga: Northville and Benedict Horses Trotting on the Ice today.”:
“The weather today was mostly favorable for the ice racing on the Sacandaga River at Northville and at 2 PM this afternoon about 400 people from Northville, Benedict and vicinity had gathered on the river to see the contests between trotters from the river village and the rival town. The Benedict horsemen were reported not showing up in the numbers expected, but there was a sufficient number of horses from Northville to fill out the events, and the sport was reported as excellent. The purses offered were $50.00 for the fastest class and $25.00 for the second class. The ice is in excellent condition for the races and a fast time was expected.”
In the spring races also took place at Conklingville at a place called Mile Straight Down. This pitted horse against raft. At the start of the race the raft, with it’s navigator, would careen down the rapidly moving river with the horse and rider on a straight one mile stretch of dirt road on the riverbank. Money or hard cider would be wagered upon the winner.
David Getman of Mayfield also had a track that was used for sulky and bike races complete with grandstand behind the present Mayfield High School.
In Northville, Trum Lyon was the owner of the The Lyon Hotel . He had a workhorse named Theda. Theda’s job was hauling the refuse and garbage from the hotel to the local dump.
Many people didn’t think much of her and that she was only good for a dump horse. Lyon felt something different about Theda. She worked hard and was dependable but Lyon saw something else, a spark and spirit, although many jeered and made jokes of her..
When the Fonda Fair started in Sept. of 1906 Lyon entered Theda in the Pacers race which brought open laughter among the Northville village residents and the betting against her began.
The race started in the afternoon and Theda won the race. Some people said she was just lucky. Several people wanted to buy Theda. But she was taken back to Northville and given a special stall, best feed, and the least worked of all the hotels horses.
In late winter of 1867 a challenge was made and accepted for a horse race that took place in early summer in Day Center: That winter Gurdon Conklin found himself in the position at his lumber mill with more deliveries of logs than he could find local teams to make. So he putting out the word that he was in need of drivers and got response from teams in Saratoga. In one of those teams was a retired pacer named Baldy. Old and white faced Baldy’s owner liked to brag about the horse’s younger years, all the races Baldy had won, and that Baldy still kept pretty good time.
Batchelerville/Day area native Abijah Bowman, Bije for short, grew tired of this Saratogians bragging. Bije had a horse named Buckskin ,who also was quite fast, and challenged Baldy’s owner to a race in the spring.
In the following months local people gathered around woodstoves at the local stores to discuss the outcome and maybe make a bet. Due to the amount of time that would pass until the race, news traveled far and wide about the horse from Saratoga and the local favorite.
The area buzzed with anticipation as the month of June finally arrived. When the weather provided for the preparations of the race, men set to work on a level area of ground and began grading and grooming the ½ mile oval track. The day finally arrived with much anticipation as a large crowd from all over turned out for the great race.
Bije was driving Buckskin and Baldy’s owner had an expert driver. Pulling a high wheeled sulkies. The horse’s lined up at noon and at the shout of the word “GO!!” They were off.
For a time they were neck and neck. then other times one might pull ahead …then the other . The crowd was screaming . Baldy’s driver applied the whip and Baldy put his head down and went to work. Coming into the last turn Bije’s Buckskin broke his stride and Saratoga’s Baldy won by several lengths. A second heat was run but with the same result.
Bije lost the $50.00 bet he had placed on Buckskin. The average wage earner in the 1800’s only made $16.00 a week. Men driving the horse drawn streetcars in New York in the made $1.75 a day working 14 to 16 hr. a day. So $50.00 was a lot of money.
by Lorraine Frasier