Anyone who pays close attention to teams of horses working a field probably knows that Belgians are the most popular draft horses in Lancaster County. What you may not know is that the number of Belgian breeders in the county has doubled or tripled in the past two decades, thus ensuring that the breed will remain supreme for many years to come.

That's one fact you will learn by reading "Working Horses of Lancaster County,'' a new book by Beth Oberholtzer and John Herr. They have published a unique book about the draft and carriage horses used in the Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities.

The book is engagingly written by Oberholtzer, a local book designer and author, and vibrantly illustrated by Herr, a local photographer and violinist. Atglen publisher Schiffer, as usual, has produced a splendid coffee table book at a reasonable price.

The book is divided into sections according to breeds, leading with the most popular Belgians among draft horses and the most popular standardbreds among carriage horses.

Oberholtzer obviously loves horses  —  she says so both in so many words and more subtly. She writes about them and their owners as friends — to each other and to her and to Herr. This is an intimate book about some of the 20,000-plus horses that live in Lancaster County.

Here are some of the things you will learn by perusing this book:

— Mules actually are the dominant type of working animal among Amish farmers. They are as popular as all breeds of draft horses combined. Mules are smart, hard workers and not so stubborn as some people believe. “The mule combines the patience, sure-footedness and endurance of a donkey,'' Oberholtzer writes, "with the vigor and strength of the horse.''

—Smarter, livelier draft horses move to the center of a team of multiple horses, with the driver holding the reins on two while the others follow their lead. Sometimes lead horses falter and are removed from the central position until they regain their confidence.

— When carriage horses grow older and lose their vigor, they are often called "pappy horses,” for being more appropriate for older men to drive because they won't make trouble.

— Horses sleep only three hours a day, usually taking "cat naps'' rather than dozing off for longer periods.

Sprinkled within the narrative are some eye-catching side stories:

— Why do the Amish drive from the right rather than the left of a carriage? When Pennsylvania established its turnpike from Lancaster to Philadelphia in 1792, the government mandated that travel would be on the right side of the road. Carriage drivers sat on the right so they could keep their buggies out of the ditch. They still sit on the right, while car drivers moved over to the left.

— Artist Jamie Wyeth's wife, Phyllis, came to an Old Order Mennonite farmer looking for a team of smaller draft horses that would be easy to handle. She purchased a prized pair of Haflingers, named Jeff and Josie, but returned them because Jeff was too "feisty.''

Oberholtzer and Herr also have self-published a new paperback, "Mares & Foals of Lancaster County,'' in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch.

Their collaboration goes back farther. Four years ago, they produced "Plain Meetinghouses,'' a photographic exploration of Old Order Mennonite meetinghouses in Lancaster County.

— Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler" column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at

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