Now, the plowman did not work alone. He had to rely on his trusty team of oxen or horses, and before he could rely on them, he had to train them. An ox or horse won’t be ready to work were it to suddenly find itself in a new and strange situation, hitched up to another animal with a heavy burden dragging behind it. Oxen and horses had to slowly and patiently be introduced to the task of working a field, and this was another one of the plowman’s responsibilities. They had to be trained in the months leading up to Spring so that, come time to plant, they were ready and willing to work.
An author writing in the 1500s recommends being patient and kind to the animals one is trying to train. For example, an ox should be between three and five years of age, so as to be strong enough to work, but not so old that he is set in his ways! He would be tied headfirst in a stable, and for a couple of days the plowman was to talk and sing to him, and to pat, feed and water him. Then the ox would be yoked to another, and they would be let out into a pasture for a couple of days to get to know one each other. Next the plowman would begin taking them on walks together, and within a short while they would be comfortable enough with him, and with each other, that everyone would be ready to learn how to work together in a team. They would start with some light plowing, giving the oxen time to get used to their new jobs and to build up their strength. It wasn’t long before the oxen were productive members of the Tudor village community, helping out the plowman and other farmers with their daily tasks!
This would have been a job familiar to those who lived and worked at Agecroft Hall during the Tudor era. An inventory of that estate, made upon the death of William Dauntesey in the first years of 1620, indicates that the estate was home to five oxen and four horses. Nine animals of such size would have kept many a plowman busy!
How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, by Ruth Goodman
Luttrell Psalter - The British Library
The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry, March