July 13, 2007 found my wife, Mary, and me on a plane bound for Bogotá, Colombia, South America. I had been issued an invitation to judge their National Draft Horse Show a year before, in August of 2006, when I met with a group of Colombians while they attended the National Belgian Show at Davenport, Iowa. After visiting the Belgian show the Colombians traveled to Indiana, Ohio and points east where they purchased a group of Belgian and Percheron horses to be imported to Colombia.
We arrived in Bogotá about nine o’clock in the evening and were met at the airport by a delegation from the Draft Horse Association, including the secretary, Mr. German Lopez. We knew many of these people as this was our third trip to their country. Bogotá, by the way, is the capital of Colombia and is a beautiful city built on a large plateau with a stable climate and altitude of 8,500 feet. We were whisked away to a hotel where a very nice apartment was ready for us. A beautiful bouquet of flowers was the centerpiece of the living room and the kitchen was well-stocked with huge bowls of different fruits, many of which I had never seen before. In fact, I had to inquire how to prepare some of them to eat.
A shot of the Grand Champion Belgian Stallion with some of the members of the Colombian Draft Horse Association in the judging arena.
Posing with Grand Champion Belgian mare Yha Vicky Rose are German Lopez, Maria Teresa de Lopez, Dr. Neumann and Margarita DeBarbosa.
Winner of the 3-4-year Belgian stallion class, Colombian-bred Colinas Kalipso. Owned by Jose A. Cabrera.
A group picture of the Colombian National Draft Horse Association taken on the farm of its secretary, Mr. German Lopez.
Dr. Neumann and the "Frenchman," Mr. Alain James shaking hands. Dr. Neumann had just awarded his belt to Mr. James.
The next day, Saturday, was a day of rest so we could get used to the altitude which, by the way, did not seem to bother us “flat landers.” Ms. Lucia Contillo and Maria Teresa de Lopez met us at the hotel and took us to Usaquen for lunch.
On Sunday, the National Draft Horse Show was held in a large coliseum located on the fairgrounds in Bogotá. The fair was a huge agricultural exhibition and the draft horse show was part of it. The show consisted of halter classes only as there are no driving classes. Mr. Mario Jimenez escorted us to the fair at 8:45 in the morning. The first class was in the ring at 10 o’clock and I finished at 7:30 in the evening. A lunch break was very welcome at two in the afternoon.
I judged, at the halter, a total of 97 horses of the Belgian, Percheron, Brabant and Friesian breeds. The breakdown was: 41 Percherons (31 females and 10 males); 51 Belgians (36 females and 15 males); 3 Brabants (1 females and 2 males); and 2 Friesians (both males). These horses were shown in 47 classes or competences.
I was asked to give reasons for my placings, which I did. This takes much time as Spanish is the language used in Colombia and my expertise in it is very limited. However, I had a very fine interpreter, a young veterinarian, Dr. Juan Villa, whose wife and daughter were visiting with Mary in the stands. I do not know what the seating capacity was in the bleachers around the arena but I do know that the spectators could come and go as they pleased and the bleachers were well-filled during the show.
I was very favorably impressed with the quality of the horses being shown. Some of these animals, who went on to win their classes, were Colombian-bred and raised while others had been imported. I really enjoyed judging this show as the horses were exhibited very professionally and the spectators were enthusiastic about the placings.
A group of agriculturally-affiliated politicians visited the show. One young gentleman, who was the Minister of Agriculture, entertained the audience by riding a horse in the arena. Of course a number of TV cameras were present. I had a brief moment on their national television coverage when I was introduced to the government people and an official representing the fair.
The agricultural officials inquired about the quality of the horses and the show in general. I was also presented a gift from the fair in appreciation of my work as a judge for the Draft Horse Show.
A breed is not shown against or with another in this draft horse show. Each breed has a Grand Champion mare and stallion. These, in turn, are not shown against other breeds to produce an overall champion mare or stallion. I soon noticed that every time I judged a Percheron class, the winner received the usual ribbon or trophy from the show personnel. This was always followed by the award of a gift presented to the owner of the animal by a rather distinguished-looking individual who spoke only French. He was accompanied by three or four persons who served as interpreters.
I had four entries in the Grand Champion Percheron Stallion class. It was the last Percheron class to be judged and every entry had been the winner of their respective classes. As I moved each animal, for the last time, I noticed that the Frenchman and his group were extremely interested in this class as they were watching the animals closely.
I quickly narrowed the final placing down to two individuals. The one stallion was 18 hh plus and was the picture of the extremely modern hitch horse. He was sound and had a good bottom and top, narrow across the front but lacked depth of chest and flank. Oh, how he could move!!
The other horse was 18 hh with a very good width and depth of chest. The flank was filled. The animal was also sound with a very good bottom and top and a pleasing width of heel. He could also move like a dream.
Both stallions had good necks and heads for their size and build, although I remember thinking the first stud’s head was a bit long and a little more coarse than the other.
I walked around them several times looking for something to aid in the placing of the class. I picked stallion #2 for the Grand Champion ribbon. Of course I had to give my reasons for the placement and I dwelt on the difference between the two on the depth of rib and flank as well as the width of the chests and the appearance of the heads.
I noticed the Frenchman had exhausted his gift supply so he congratulated the owners and gave them his necktie which was red with a black Percheron head emblazoned on it. He then turned and walked over to me with his interpreters following close behind.
He said, “I noticed you had some difficulty deciding between the two horses.” “Yes,” I replied, “the other horse would have won in many shows in the States but he exhibits characteristics of a carriage horse and not of a draft.”
“I agree with you,” he replied “and I am very pleased that you placed them as you did.” He added, “they are ruining the breed with some of these horses.” With that he turned and walked away. I was to meet him again in a day or two.
I learned that he was a Percheron breeder in France. His name was Alain James and he is the representative for the Haras Nationsux. This is the national entity for all of the French horse breeds. This association judges all of the horse breeds in France.
Naturally his comments made my day! Sometime later I learned the Percheron stallion I did not use for Grand Champion was an imported animal which had been the Supreme Champion at a large show in the States.
On Monday we were picked up in the hotel lobby by Mr. Enrique Izquierdo and driven to the beautiful farm of Mrs. Luisa Jimenez where we were with the Association members and I lectured on equine nutrition and how to prevent colic in horses. This farm is the home of the Grand Champion Percheron Stallion. The owners were very proud of their stallion and brought him out for those who wanted to see him.
The Jimenez home was newly built and very handsome as well as practical. After a very good meal and a pleasant chat, we returned to Bogotá.
Tuesday morning found us on the road to Ubate to visit the farm of Mr. German Lopez, the Association secretary. The farm was located on the side of a mountain from which one could look down into the town of Ubate, a very beautiful setting indeed.
On the way to the farm our hosts, Ms. Lucia Cantillo and Mr. Luis Fernando Jaramillo, made a slight detour and took us to the site of a very old Spanish cathedral. It is one of only five remaining in Colombia, we were told. We were there early in the morning so there were no other tourists to interfere with the guide as she took us through the church and explained its many features. I was especially interested in the very old paintings on the interior sidewalls of the building. She said the cathedral had been on the verge of being destroyed when some people decided to clean the interior walls and the paintings were discovered. It was this discovery that saved the building and its surroundings. I believe she said the cathedral was over 500 years old and was a historical landmark and a Colombian national treasure.
The Lopez family is very proud of a pair of blond Belgian mares which Mr. Lopez hitched to a forecart and drove in his outdoor arena. They were quiet, gentle and drove very well.
I continued to talk to the Association members about equine nutrition and how to manage a good equine production program.
A large open tent was placed on the lawn and here is where everyone sat down to an excellent Colombian barbecue beef dinner. The beef had been prepared over an open fire at the edge of the yard.
The seminars which I had given the past two days, had been attended by Mr. James, the Frenchman, and his group serving as interpreters. In fact, just before the dinner I had visited with him about certain horse-related topics. He and his party were seated diagonally across from where we were sitting under the tent awning.
After the meal, Mr. James was asked to give a comment or a short talk. He responded by speaking mostly about me, which was very embarrassing to Mary and me. Not that it was negative but he commented very positively about my judging and teaching abilities He even went so far as to say he was going to try and teach his judges, in France, some of the methods I had been using when judging the halter classes. He was very interested in the subjects I had been addressing.
I was really embarrassed by all of this and I knew when he was finished I had to make a reply. I could see my wife was wishing she was somewhere else because she did not know what I was going to say.
When he was finished and had sat down, I stood up to make my reply. As I started talking he immediately came over to our table with his French-English interpreter. I thanked him for the compliments and told him I had seen him give a present to all of the Percheron winners at the show. So I took off my prized German silver decorated western style belt and gave it to him with these words, “This is the first time I have lost a part of my pants, and to a Frenchman at that!!”
After all of the laughing died down he took off his necktie, a red one with an embossed black Percheron head on it, and presented it to me. So we became friends even though he was on the opposite side of the fence from me.
As evening fell upon us some members of the Association motored with us to a small town hotel at Cucunuba which was near Ubate. The two-story building was an old Spanish-style structure and its ground floor rooms open onto a walkway which bordered a courtyard filled with many beautiful flowering plants. The second story rooms opened onto a veranda from which a person could view the courtyard immediately below.
Mary and I were given a suite on the second floor and the rooms were very, very comfortable and nice. We were told that the president of Colombia would stay there when he would be in the area. Whether this is true or not, I do not know, but I have no reason to doubt it.
I might add that the next morning I had breakfast which consisted of Colombian food and fruit. It was very good.
After breakfast, in the company of some Association members we did some shopping for gifts in the business district of the small town of Raquira. There were many, many shops all of which were packed with gift items large and small.
After the shopping spree we were off to the farm of Mr. Enrique Izquierdo in Choconta. While my wife made herself at home with some women, I looked at Mr. Izquierdo’s horses and talked about how to handle a stallion when he is used on a mare. His son had learned to be a farrier and we discussed shoeing problems and their remedies.
After a wonderful dinner and a good visit with many of the Association members, we were driven back to the hotel in Bogotá by the young couple who owned the Grand Champion Percheron stallion.
We had one more farm yet to see and more horses to look at. Mr. Hugo Sanhueza met us in the lobby the next morning and drove us to his farm. In contrast to Mr. Izquierdo’s farm, which was located on more or less flat land, Mr. Sanhueza’s property was in quite hilly country. It was very pretty there. At the show he had exhibited two Brabant stallions. On the farm his draft herd consisted of three imported Brabants; two stallions and a mare. His plan is to raise some foals and cross his stallions on the local draft mares to develop a more sturdy and “draftier” horse for farm work.
While there I witnessed a neighbor moving a portable milking stall to a new location down the mountainside and it was being accomplished with horses. I believe Mr. Sanhueza’s plan is a good one and I wish him the very best in moving ahead with it.
After lunch, Mr. Sanhueza returned us to Bogotá where we met some others from the Association. They took us to a Colombian shopping mall. It is no different than ours. In fact, many of the stores have the same merchandise as is available here. One of the men was shopping for a chain saw. I quickly found the brand and model I have and explained to him the pros and cons of the machine.
And so the time had come to say goodbye to our friends. We were taken to the home of Inez Majica in Bogotá and after relaxing there for several hours, her daughter, Lucia Contillo, drove us to the airport and stayed with us until we boarded the plane for our flight back to the states.
The two chief exports from the Bogotá area of Colombia are flowers and dairy products. There are thousands of acres of greenhouses, with their plastic roofs, in the Bogotá region. From the air they glisten and resemble the lakes such as you see in Minnesota. Most of the flowers which you may purchase in almost all of our stores are grown in Colombia.
As we drove through the countryside one could see herds of dairy cows almost everywhere. The predominate breed is the Holstein. Milk and milk products are exported from the region.
Grass grows everywhere. Very little hay is cut and stored as the climate stays more or less constant all year. The temps generally range from 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They have a dry season in which some hay may be occasionally needed.
The cows are milked in the pasture using portable milking stalls which often are moved about by horsepower. The milk is collected there and taken to an area where it is refrigerated or loaded into a refrigerated tanker. Horsepower is often used to bring the milk to these collection points.
Tractors and modern machinery are very expensive in Colombia. As a result, parts may be stolen off a good tractor if the opportunity arises. The machines are usually kept under the watchful eye of the owner when not in use.
Horse equipment and machinery is not manufactured in Colombia and must be largely imported. Everything from harnesses, forecarts, etc., is usually brought in from the States.
In the past the Colombians have come to the United States to purchase draft horses for breeding and work purposes. I discovered that France is making a concerted effort to sell their horses to the Colombian breeders.
It is my understanding that horses arriving in Colombia from France would not cost any more money than those arriving from the U.S.A. Since France is considerably further from Colombia than the States, this would seem to mean some adjustments have to be made on the French part to make the business work. I was also told that imported horses from France could keep their registration papers. This is in direct contrast to those registered draft animals imported to Colombia from the States and Canada. They lose their papers upon importation. Of course this all depends on if what I heard was true and not just idle gossip.
One last observation–The Colombians are not a wasteful people. As we drove about the countryside around Bogotá, we could see that every grassy area was being utilized by some kind of livestock. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and even pigs were tethered on any available grass-covered ground, even if it was located right up to the highway. Every bit of pasture was being utilized.
All of the Association members and other people we met in Colombia were very kind and courteous to my wife and me. They helped us with the language barrier and looked after our welfare at all times. The Draft Horse Association members are a wonderful group of people and I am honored to know them as friends and to have judged their National Draft Horse Show.