George Burns lives north of Morristown, South Dakota. George had one of the largest collections of John Deere tractors in the tri-county region, along with the mother lode of harnesses—including the U-shaped, metal hames sections through which the reins are threaded—and tractor seats, brass bells, and on, and on. He still has the tractors, but unfortunately for George, a prairie fire blew through his place and burned down the buildings that housed the treasure trove. The burned parts, which were tempered by the fire, were not collectible anymore, and had lost their value to antique collectors. So, buried under sheets of charred tin, they were free for the taking.
My friend Kenny Tomac and I dug through the ruins to find so many plow discs that the Friesian ended up with eight, giving it a more unified feel than the other horses in the Grand River Series. I used the hames for the muscles in the neck and hind leg, a pitchfork in the neck, steel scoop shovels for the shoulders, and real horse shoes on the hooves.
Friesians, which are large but nimble animals with unusually long, wavy manes and tails, were used for pulling wagons and other work before they were refined into smooth-gliding show horses. Their ancestors are believed to have carried knights into battle during the Middle Ages. Today, Friesians are popular in many areas of horse showing, including harness and dressage. They are also replacing the Thoroughbreds that once graced the paddocks and stables at Historic Runnymede Farms—where the 1968 Kentucky Derby winner named Dancer’s Image, originated, and where this sculpture was placed. The farm asked me to depart from my usual raw-metal style, preferring a silver-black paint to reflect the glossy, dramatic coloring of the Friesian breed.
Happily, the burnt barns were the only casualties related to the Friesian project, although Kenny experienced a near miss. We had filled my pickup with all kinds of crispy, wonderful finds, and were on our last round. I thought I heard a little girl scream—but it was just Kenny, who had stepped on a rusty nail. A guy who knows his way around a construction site and builds low-carbon-footprint cabins, he refused the trip to town for a tetanus shot. I just poured him another cup of tea.