What is a Horse Tiller?

Brenda Scott

A rotary tiller is a motorized cultivator with rotary blades. The first rotary tillers were built in Europe in the 1850s, and were used throughout England, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and France. In 1932, Carl Kelsey set up an American distributorship for a Swiss rotary tiller manufacturer in New York under the name Rototiller, Inc., and in 1934 designed the first American rototiller. In time, this company changed its name to Troy-Bilt, and in the 1960s, the company introduced a line of rotary tillers named after the Trojan Horse. A horse tiller is a rotary tiller in this product line.

A farmer uses a horse tiller to turn and aerate new ground, and to further break up soil that has already been used once.
A farmer uses a horse tiller to turn and aerate new ground, and to further break up soil that has already been used once.

A horse tiller has four motor-driven tines; two that are straight and two that are L-shaped. The straight tines cut a slash into the ground, and the L-shaped tines undercut the straight slash. Front-mounted models have tines located in front of the wheels, and are smaller and lighter than rear-mounted models, and are best when used on existing garden beds. A rear-mounted horse tiller has the tines located behind the wheel and is self-propelled, which makes it a better choice for preparing hard ground.

Turning soil is the primary function of a horse tiller. If the land has been used for previous planting, it is important to remove as much of the vegetation as possible in advance, and then till the soil, which will release nutrients deep within the ground and allow the soil to aerate. A flap positioned behind the blades smooths the soil that has been dug up in preparation for planting. A horse tiller can also be used to cut a path through an existing lawn or to prepare hard soil for landscaping. If the area being tilled is clear of rocks and plant life, then a layer of fertilizer or new top soil can be added and tilled into the ground.

New horse tiller models have been designed for one handed operation and have multiple forward and reverse speeds. The transmission is made of cast-iron and has a bronze gear drive. Tilling width varies depending upon the model, but they all have the ability to adjust the tilling depth. Full-sized shields are included to protect the operator's feet from the tines, and a variety of sizes are available to match job requirements.

There are a number of attachments which can be purchased for the horse tiller, such as the hiller/furrower which is used to create raised beds or corn or potato hills. A wrap-around bumper can be added to protect the tiller body, and a dozer blade attachment can convert the tiller into a snow removal device. When operating a horse tiller, it is important to wear ear and eye protection and to follow the manufacturer’s user instructions.

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