Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:26


Written by  Bruce A. Roy
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How often has it been said, “I'd sooner Clydesdale breeders judge my draft horses than breeders of Belgians, Percherons or Shires." Why are Clydesdale breeders collectively the most popular draft horse judges?

When judging draft horses, Clydesdale breeders appear to evaluate the horses trotted before them against an unwritten, time-honoured standard, which most Clydesdale men and women appear to have in mind. This is a standard that has changed little.

Why are Belgian, Percheron and Shire judges less popular? Is this because Belgian, Shire and Percheron type has changed? Compare the Belgians and Shires bred 50, 60 or 70 years ago with the Belgians and Shires that are bred today. There is a marked difference in type, although both breeds are much improved. However, the breed that has undergone far the greatest and most numerous changes in type is the Percheron. In fact, some horsemen who once employed the Percheron increasingly refer to them as “coach horses.” Sadly, this number is growing!

From the late 1930s to the early '50s, Americans were encouraged to raise Percherons that were little more than farm chunks. Following this change in type, America's Percheron breed went into a tailspin. These “extreme” Percherons won little favour. It was one of several reasons Percheron registrations went into a free fall.

Today, a growing number of Percheron breeders are raising “coach horses:” shallow-ribbed, long-backed, sparrow-legged Percherons, a number of which are getting taller and still taller. They, too, are considered “extreme” in type by increasing numbers of horsemen. Once again Percheron registration numbers are in a free fall.

Percheron "coach horses" are destroying the breed's base market.

The Percheron “coach horse” is bred for one purpose–to show at exhibitions across North America in the performance classes they offer. The heads on these “coach horses” are ever higher on necks bred to be ever longer. The wind in an increasing number of such horses is unsound, while the vertebrae in the longer backs on these “extreme” Percherons are increasingly out of joint. Often these horses are visibly sore; many appear out of balance. Yes! Many Percheron “coach horses” can lift in front. However, their front feet are often out of control. Sadly, little concern is expressed as to how these Percheron “coach horses” move, albeit in front or behind. The question now being asked is, do unsound turnouts of Percheron “coach horses,” regardless of their brilliance in harness, deserve to win draft horse performance classes? More importantly, do these Percheron “coach horses” have a future when retired from the show ring?

Percherons are draft horses–not “coach horses!” Draft horses that can be modern and attractive, but not “extreme” for the modern draft horse is a public attraction. However, these Percherons must be draft horses sound of limb and wind. They must exhibit the time-tested traits essential to the survival of all draft horse breeds: quality horses with head-sets whose clean, flat bone has substance; Percherons planted on feet, which are all their own; feet with depth, width of heel and hoofheads that are both big and open. These are the traits that once made the Percheron the most popular breed on the street, in the forest and on the farm. These traits gave the Percheron breed an advantage, competing in a horse pull or performing in a show ring. Percherons must remain a draft horse; a draft horse whose joints are strong and free of flesh and fluid. They must remain draft horses that are sound, that have no daily need of doctoring. It is imperative that Percheron breeders, as well as Belgian, Clydesdale and Shire breeders, raise draft horses of a convenient size to maintain each breed's base market. Heavy horses too close to heaven have no purpose here on earth!

Yes! Percherons can be big and modern in design. However, they must have bottoms, bone and body to facilitate their size and weight. Yes! They need to be athletes; free moving draft horses that travel straight in front with hocks that are close behind. Their tight hocks should move as do well-oiled pistons. If we want to attract buyers who express an interest in the Percheron breed, our horses need to have a temperament that is pleasing and those of age must be well-broke. Horses that can be handled, bridled and harnessed with ease are a must today. Otherwise, buyers attracted to a breed will soon lose interest. Percheron breeders, employers, teamsters and grooms–your future is in jeopardy. The future of each Percheron breed association is in jeopardy. The Percheron breed can ill afford to lose its base market.

Whatever its purpose, the Percheron must remain a draft horse, one whose limbs and wind are sound. If the Belgian, Clydesdale and Shire breeds can no longer compete when shown against Percheron “coach horses” in open competition, the members of these three breeds have two options: To convert their breed to “coach horses” as many Percheron breeders have done and face the same future; Or lobby the leading exhibitions across North America, requesting that Percheron “coach horses” be refused entry in the interbreed draft horse performance classes.

“Coach horses” have little future in the draft horse industry. At least this is how I see it.

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