Forester Wolfgang Kunzmann conducts near-natural forest management in his district around Limbach in the Odenwald. He is assisted by Dietmar Gieser—and by Mira, his remarkable logging mare. This is a story about a former tradition that is returning to the forests.

Mira stands still, with the buzzing of a chainsaw beside her. Yet she doesn’t seem fazed by it. The horse stands stoically between the trees, only occasionally moving her head forwards to reach the delicate buds in the branches in front of her. Dietmar and Susanne Gieser are behind her and handling heavy chains, looping them tightly around three tree trunks. Mira is a Noriker mare. She has a brown coat and a black mane. “You can’t upset her easily,” says Dietmar. The tree trunks are bound together and Dietmar clicks his tongue, barely audibly. Mira leans forward, willing her 900-kilogram body weight into the harness and setting herself and the logs behind her in motion with powerful strides.


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In action: Dietmar Gieser and Mira at work.

Mira is a draught horse working with her owner Dietmar in the Scheringer Hardt forest near Mosbach in the Odenwald. Forester Wolfgang Kunzmann is in charge of the woods here. He enjoys working with the pair and Mira and Dietmar would be working in his area much more often if it were up to him. But horse keeping is a leisure activity for Dietmar. The man from Schefflenz is actually a locksmith. He assists forester Wolfgang only in his leisure time. “We like being in the forest,” he says. “And for our own logging we don’t use any tractors at all. We only need one horsepower.” And the power that this horse demonstrates is remarkable.

Mira is a Noriker mare and weighs 900 kilogrammes.

Logging horses were commonly used in the forests here until the 1960s. Then heavy machinery with significantly more horsepower replaced the animals. However, large tractors and harvesters need space, leave wide lanes in the forest and compact the forest floor to such an extent that hardly anything grows there. The use of draught horses has been reintroduced since near-natural forest management has become more important. “Machines have their applications, of course, but the animals make a great contribution,” Wolfgang explains. Mira can pull up to 400 kilogrammes. It is her turn to pull logs from the forest when large machines would do more harm than good. This is the case in nature reserves, for example, or in wooded areas next to bodies of water where vehicles would get stuck in the mud.

Wolfgang has been a forester in the Fahrenbach-Limbach forest district since 1989. He looks after the municipal forest. However, most parts of the forest here are privately owned. Early on, Wolfgang has advocated for natural regeneration of the forest, without having to clear-cut areas or promote monocultures. “Anything else makes no sense to me,” he says. Instead of planting trees, he ensures that the conditions for tree seeds are good enough for them to take root. This requires loose forest soil and sufficient light, above all. “I make sure to cut down old trees in such a way that light shafts are created for new trees to grow,” he explains. Not everyone liked his approach at first. “The local farmers here made clear to me that they didn’t think much of it.”

The forest knows best what is good for it

Forester Wolfgang Kunzmann

But Wolfgang realised early on that he wanted to work with nature—not against it. “The forest knows best what is good for it,” he says. Then he points to a piece of forest a little further away, where spruces grow right next to each other like in a plantation. “Spruce stands like this, which were planted by the previous generation to the best of their knowledge and belief, are being phased out today. These monocultures are the first to die.” Today we know that bark beetles particularly like such plantations. In addition, spruce has relatively shallow roots and runs out of water more quickly in dry conditions than silver fir, for example. Spruce forests are suffering particularly hard from the climate crisis. The attitude of local forest owners here in the Odenwald has also changed in the meantime, Wolfgang adds. They have realised that they needed to change something, after the first extremely hot summers in 2018 and the following years were over. “Today, they ask me for advice on how they can make their forests more robust.”

A healthy, young mixed forest is what forester Wolfgang Kunzmann is working for.

Wolfgang takes a few steps up the mountain slope that Mira walks down as she puffs in the drizzle. He points to a clear spot in the forest. Grass and moss grow there as well as lots of small trees in between. “There are spruces and pines, a silver fir and even a larch over there.” This is a diverse, robust mixed forest; however, only a relatively small one. Wolfgang would like to see this everywhere in his territory. “There was a small clearing here a few years ago. Then the wild boars rooted around leaving behind ideal conditions for forest regeneration.” Wolfgang wants to achieve the same effect with the help of Mira. Today, she doesn’t pull felled trunks out of the forest, but criss-crosses through it with them. “This removes the leaves and loosens the soil,” creating ideal conditions for new life. “It’s an experiment,” he admits. “Come back in a few years and you’ll see if it was a success,” he laughs. As a forester, you need patience.

Mira carefully ploughs the forest soil pulling the logs behind her.

“Brrrrt!” Mira stops immediately. “This way,” Dietmar says calmly and Mira changes direction. The pair operates well together. Dietmar used to ride in competitions. “After that we didn’t have a horse for a few years. But it’s like a virus: The love for animals doesn’t let you go.” Together with his wife Susanne, he thought about what they could do. The decision was quickly made: carriage driving. For their new hobby, they decided on a strong, gentle cold-blooded horse—Mira. Since then, they have taken part in numerous parades in the Odenwald.

Dietmar loves working with Mira in the forest.

Dietmar talks about a ploughing competition that he attended as a spectator a few years ago. “I was fascinated by the way the older farmers communicated with their horses. You hardly heard anything, hardly saw anything, but the horses did exactly what they were supposed to do.” This type of collaboration with the horse is much closer than in riding. “You command the horse with your thighs in riding. But you have to communicate in a completely different way from a distance.” And you need to know each animal’s peculiarities. “Mira is an absolute creature of habit,” Dietmar explains. The horse won’t take a step into the forest if his wife Susanne isn’t with them. After all, forestry work is teamwork for the Gieser family.

Dietmar takes part in logging competitions with Mira as well. But when asked about the results, he shrugs his shoulders. “You came second in the Baden-Württemberg championships in 2023,” his wife jumps in. It quickly becomes clear that this is not what matters. He just loves working with his horse. That’s why he is happy to help out when Wolfgang needs them. However, it is Mira alone who decides how long the assignment lasts. “She is the one to set the end of work,” Dietmar says. Just like now. He waves to Wolfgang: “Mira can’t take any more.” Little clouds of vapour rise from her back and she is breathing heavily. Dietmar leads her back to the trailer parked at the bottom of the forest path. The reward is already waiting there: juicy carrots for the horse and Susanne’s famous sweet bread and hot coffee for the humans.


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