It all started with hooks, in the barn. You may have seen it before, maybe you've done it yourself; made a hook out of a nailed up horseshoe to help you organize your barn space a little bit better. Nailed up horseshoes, fastened on one side to a post, make great places to hang baler twine, or halters, or bridles, maybe collars and other things. Did it ever occur to you that this kind of low level innovation could lead to birthday, Christmas, anniversary and wedding gifts?
Roger Thoms, a native of Iowa, transplanted to Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania, some 36 years ago has created some very artistic and functional pieces of furniture and household accoutrements from, guess what: horseshoes. Roger, you see, is a professional farrier. He shod his first equine, a pony, at age eight. He came here to Pennsylvania to work for the Coles of Pennwoods Percherons, and then started his own shoeing business. For many years, Roger shod draft horses for his customers around the country, and his own. Now, he just shoes his own. A by-product of shoeing horses is used horseshoes. Roger's wife, Linda, has been the recipient of about 20 years' worth of those household items Roger has been making. The very first piece he made for her was a desk lamp that stands proudly on her desk at the Sun Orthopedic practice where she works in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (as chief administrator, she says, she has earned the designation CCT behind her name: Chief Crap-Taker). A standard question she gets at the office every Christmas is, "What did you get for Christmas this year?" I would imagine that some of the wives she works with would admire the kind of generosity in a husband that takes the time every year to make a present for his wife with his own hands, and from ideas out of his own head, but then there are those who would only allow things in their homes that come from a furniture store, and look just like the kinds of things one would find in most other houses. A visit to the Thoms' place makes it apparent the moment one enters the house that thisClydesdale draft horse thing belongs to both Roger and Linda. Where other homes might have pictures of mountains and lakes, birds and wildlife hanging on the walls, this home has pictures of horses. Now not just any horses, mind you, these are black Clydesdales. And just in case you thought the horsey gift giving goes only from Roger to Linda, you need to know that on one of the most prominent places in the house, the dining room wall, where it is seen several times every day is a painting Linda had commissioned for Roger of one of their favorite horses of all time. The horse in the picture on the wall is Terragold's King Footprint, a stallion they owned for several years who did a very good job in the show ring under harness, in team, and in cart classes. In close contention are geldings Bud and Joe, who were sold to Express Clydesdales of Yukon, Oklahoma, where they performed in the six-horse hitch for many years. Also smitten with the team, Bob Funk, owner of Express says this is the only team of horses he will commit to having "die on the farm." This, it seems, is the legacy that Roger is determined to leave; one of starting things out and then turning them over to others. Every year he puts together a new set of horses to show in some very stiff competition. Most showmen keep their best ones so that they can beat everyone else. Roger sells them and takes great joy in the accomplishments they bring to their new owners. And so, for the Thoms horses, the show ring is much more than a place to win, it's a place to further train horses to become more sale ready; to increase in worth, encouraging those in the market for that special show horse to keep coming around to buy a good, black Thoms Clydesdale.
You may have seen the ads in The Draft Horse Journal and other places for draft horse driving clinics offered by Ro-Lin On Clydes. Twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, Roger and Linda invite those who are willing to part with 350 of their dollars to come to their 18-acre farm in the rolling hills of Eastern Pennsylvania, a place that flatlander Roger has come to love, for a three-day session to learn to work with and drive draft horses. This program fits in very well with Roger and Linda's philosophy of providing ways for more people to start to becoming a part of the draft horse industry. Roger's clinic has been going on since 1996, and 400-plus students have taken part in it. That's a lot of people who have been exposed to the possibility of becoming involved with draft horses, and some of them have become involved to the level of having provided Roger with stiff competition in the show ring! Joe Sibio with his Clydesdales of Clark's Summit, Pennsylvania; Tammy and Derry Furry with their
Clydesdales of New Enterprise, Pennsylvania; Sean Smith of Tillimook, Oregon, with his Clydesdales; and Terry and Gail Woodring with their Percherons, are just some who have gone through the Ro-Lin On classes and made names for themselves in the show ring. A quick look via an internet search will show that the four examples mentioned here are active both in the show ring and outside of it. Terry Woodring, for instance, is a full-time horseman these days, giving rides, showing and doing some farming with his horses. Just a few weeks before I met with Roger and Linda to interview them for this article, Roger had been to Colorado for the big draft horse shows in Denver and Loveland. While there, he helped his former student from Double S Clydesdales, Sean Smith, with his horses, getting them into the show ring on time, properly harnessed. The legacy of Ro-Lin On Clydes to the rest of the draft horse industry is one of underlying support.
They say pedigree is important.
This one is strong, top and bottom. Both Roger and Linda come from three generations of family heavily–not casually–involved in draft horses. On Roger's side, the Clydesdale thing started with his maternal grandfather Ed Claussen, who bought his first Clydesdale in 1928, for farm work. Grandpa Claussen liked the way the Clydes covered ground with their long legs, and he thought they had better wind than other breeds he might have chosen to work with. Roger has two sisters. His sister, Becky, is married to Steve Fevold. They are, you guessed it, Clydesdale breeders on the home farm in Gladbrook, Iowa. That Bud and Joe team we talked about came from Steve and Becky. One of them, Joe, was born there on the farm, and the other, Bud, Becky found in an ad in the Sunday paper for $600. Steve is a full-time farmer and seed corn salesman. The other sister is Diane who is married to Eric Brown. The Browns live in Zearing, Iowa, and Diane is the maker of the mane and tail decorations that many people use to decorate their horses for the show ring. They call their company Flowers. Eric takes care of the horses and bookings to special events like parades and exhibitions. And, that's right, they have Clydesdales. Roger's father, Harry, is still active in the breed, owning horses with Becky and Steve.
Now let's move to Linda's side of the pedigree.
Her father and mother, Ed and Kathi Johnston, live in Blairsville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she grew up and lived before coming to the eastern part of the state as a new bride in 1989. Her grandfather, Floyd Johnston, and father Ed were both heavily involved with showing Clydesdales for many years. In fact, Roger and Linda met at a draft horse event. The Johnston family had taken some of their horses to Pittsburgh for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, and there was Roger driving the Heinz Percheron Hitch. Now they had known about each other, even though they didn't really know each other. There are matchmaking couples who like to give themselves credit for bringing these two together; John and Jean Frantz of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and Bill and Maggie Mullen of Lima, Ohio. Somewhere along the way Roger and Linda figured out that Linda's parents, visited with Roger's parents in 1969 when Roger was eight years old and Linda was six. So you see, this union that was to produce the two sons, Ethan and Jason, fourth generation Clydesdale enthusiasts, was simply meant to be. Son Ethan is a freshman at Allegheny College in Cumberland, Maryland, where he would be pitching on the baseball team if he hadn't injured his knee playing basketball, but he did make the Dean's List. Son Jason is in tenth grade at Penn's Valley High School. Both boys like the horses, but Jason, it seems, is a natural. The whole family is proud of his driving wins, at 15 years of age, at the Grange show in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, and the World Clydesdale show in Madison, Wisconsin, he is now the reigning World Champion Youth Team Driver.
Soon after Roger came to Pennsylvania, he "found" Steven Stoltzfus, who was starting to make harness in his parent's garage out behind the house. Roger showed the young Amishman what he needed done to some harness, and then helped him to develop draft horse show and work harness. Today, Steven's shop in nearby Rebersburg, Pine Tree Harness, specializes in draft harness. Roger brings his driving school students on excursions to local horse-related businesses, including Pine Tree Harness. He says Steven is always happy to meet them, and many of them inevitably become customers.
While we all admire those who make a highly visible entry into draft horse showing competitions with large expenditures for horses and all of the things that go along with being number one in the ring, it's people with the DNA of families like the Claussens, Thoms and Johnstons that have the most lasting impact on this industry. Roger is quick to mention his appreciation for people like the late Dick Sparrow and his and Linda's parents, and his sons and Linda, for all the support and help they have been to him all these years.