(From general news of the period and the Belgian & Percheron publications of that time.)
I think the biggest thing in that spring of 50 years ago was the birth of the European Common Market. That dwarfed any other political news. On March 25, representatives from France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Belgium and the Netherlands met in Rome to seal the deal. The treaty of Rome also established a new European Investment Bank. This new economic agreement was really something new under the sun, with nations joining together for the common good, rather than for conquest.
On March 22, a committee of experts appointed by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Institute and the National Heart and Cancer Institute came out with scientific evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The panel said more research was needed, but that evidence justified public measures against cigarette smoking. In retrospect, much of that language sounds very timid–but smoking was so prevalent and big tobacco was so powerful that they just sort of announced it and promised more research without beating tom-toms. Some quit smoking right away. Some of the rest of us took another 10 or 20 years–and it wasn't to await the results of new studies.
The previous year had been a spooky one in Europe, first with an attack on Egypt's Suez Canal by Israel, France and Britain, followed quickly by Soviet tanks crushing the revolt of the Hungarians. In early 1957 the sound of gunfire was considerably closer than Egypt and Hungary. You could almost hear it in Florida. It turns out that when President (Dictator) Batista in Cuba had announced that his troops had killed Fidel Castro that he was mistaken. The report of Fidel's death had been greatly exaggerated. Fact is, he was running a successful guerilla war and Batista was on the way out.
And finally, on January 16, Arturo Toscanini, the great orchestra conductor, put down his baton forever. Even though he was not terribly political and very slight of build, he had stood up to Mussolini–Hitler's crony down in Italy and won the admiration of the world. He would not be bullied.
The draft horse business had virtually ceased being a business. About the only news was show results. The main stream farm press had not only given up on the draft horse, but was actively encouraging farmers to get rid of them. Keep more brood sows or stock cows or dairy cows–anything but a horse that was useful for pulling–not riding. Riding was okay, if done in moderation.
Out of the 1957 Belgian Review we will reproduce the ad from the Warrens of Bancroft, Michigan. I think the photo is the best indication of their relationship with their horses.
I note in the Percheron News for Spring 1957 that Donald J. Kays, professor of animal husbandry (which had been changed to science) died on November 13, 1956. Chairman of the Department of Animal Husbandry at Ohio State from 1940-51, he had retired in 1953. He was 70 years of age. I am tempted to say that he died from disgust of what he saw coming, but of course, I can't do that. I don't know what he died of. Kays was extremely successful with his livestock judging teams at the International and the American Royal –and a popular judge. For years he was in charge of the horses and sheep at Ohio State University–and they showed several champions as well in both species.
So what kept the draft breeds from simply fading off the face of the earth?
People. People who were determined that they would not be completely done away with–at least, not on their farm or on their watch. And the Amish farmers who continued to depend on draft horses for their real horse power. Shows also did their part but, in time, even the Iowa State Fair dropped the drafters out of their program for a couple years.
Gone, for the most part, were the great hobby stables that had once been so plentiful. Preservation was, by then, in the hands of farm families with a great draft horse tradition. The Percheron News always highlighted "Our Percheron Family." In Spring of 1957, that was the Lee Breeding Family from Chrisman, Illinois. They were using their Percherons at home and enjoyed showing them–and it was a family affair.
Over in the Belgian Review it was Henry Feldman from West Valley, New York–a dairyman and horse breeder, who was refusing to believe the draft horse no longer had a place in agriculture. True believers–that carried the draft horses through the 1950s. Stubborn men and women–that is what it took–along with thousands of Amish farmers.
We'll close this with a couple pictures from each of the two dominant breeds.