Ringside at a number of exhibitions over the years, I've had occasion to watch many of North America's best known draft horses in action. I am concerned, for fewer name Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire horses shown today travel as correct as the name horses in each breed once did, although they may lift higher in front.
The percentage of draft horses sold or shown who travel correct at both ends is falling. Today, many draft horses carry their heads high on necks of impressive lengths, lifting exceptionally high in front when trotted forth on halter or in harness. This commands the public's attention. However, are judges and buyers paying less attention to how a draft horse moves behind?
Too many big upstanding geldings and mares bred today, handsome horses with added stretch, travel wrong behind. Close observation from the side suggests the hind legs on many big, stretchy draft horses are scrambling to keep up with the horses' front legs. There is little or no evidence of lift and/or length of stride. Draft horses are athletes that should lift behind as they do in front.
This raises the question, do many of the taller draft horses bred today have too much stretch to facilitate action behind that is as eye-catching as it is in front?
When horsemen state there is something wrong with draft horses whose two hocks rise and fall like pistons, showing their steel bottoms, I am concerned for our draft horse breeds. Yet, I have heard pundits ringside make such statements. These horses don't have stringhalt, they have animation!
A growing number of horsemen showing draft horses on halter and in harness force horses held in hand to carry their heads too high. The horses look uncomfortable and one wonders when their noses are pointed straight out, if the horses, which have binocular vision, can see ahead. When draft horses shown in this manner, be it on halter or in harness, move away from you, their hocks open wide, something no judge of horseflesh should tolerate. When their hind feet hit the ground, they are spread. Such draft horses appear to waddle behind like ducks out of water.
Nobody likes an attractive head-set on a big, upstanding, well-balanced draft horse more than I. However, the number of draft horses lacking balance is growing. They have the height sought by hitch horse owners, but all too often their backs appear one, two or three vertebrae too long. Many long-necked, long-backed draft horses performing in harness have lots of lift in front, albeit man paddle and/or rope-walk. However, the hind legs on many of these big stretchy horses seem to drag. Their hocks fail to rise and fall like pistons, working tight, side-by-side, flashing the steel on their shod feet. In fact, the hind feet hardly leave the ground when they move.
It is difficult to breed upstanding draft horses with the short, tight backs horsemen of earlier generations promoted. Yet, I ask, are horsemen breeding too many draft horses today that are too extreme to facilitate correct action?
While the trade for hitch horses sparks today's market, breeders must remember but a small percentage of the draft horses bred today will wear harness in a show ring. We need sound, correct-moving draft horses for horsemen who work draft horses and for those who pull, as well as for those who show. Whatever their size, I feel draft horses should be balanced athletes that travel correct, with classic action, both front and rear. It is important draft horse breeders remember the basics. At least this is how I see it!