stabeltalk

Displaying items by tag: Stable Talk
Thursday, 27 February 2014 10:59

STABLE TALK

Speaking at the World Horse Welfare charity, the President, Princess Anne, stated that the welfare of British horses could be improved if horsemeat appeared on supermarket shelves. To everyone's surprise, the message Princess Anne delivered at the November conference has created little public reaction.

While Princess Anne intended to spark debate on this burning issue, there has scarce been a whisper since she made her speech. Is this because of her elevated international position? Or is it impossible to challenge her love for a good horse? A former Olympian rider, Princess Anne has offered British horsemen her generous support. She is a Patron of several organizations promoting the horse and has been the elected President of many others. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Patron of The Shire Horse Society, is respected in international Thoroughbred circles. She breeds Highland Ponies at Balmoral castle, while Prince Phillips has fielded her New Forest Ponies in Combined Driving. Charles, The Prince of Wales is Patron of The Clydesdale Horse Society. Clydesdales are employed on his Highgrove Estate. He awarded the prestigious Prince of Wales Trophy for the Supreme Champion Clydesdale at Scotland's National Stallion Show. The Queen's father, King George VI, employed Suffolks on his Sandringham Estate; while the Queen's grandfather, King George V, was a Shire breeder, whose enthusiasm for the breed was well known. The handsome King George V Challenge Cup he offered is still awarded to the Champion Stallion at England's National Shire Horse Show.

In her speech, Princess Anne stated that owners might better care for their horses if they could sell their crippled, ill-tempered, unsaleable animals for meat. Tom Best, who champions Britain's Welsh Pony, maintains, "Anything to improve the future of 7,000 equines that have been abandoned and neglected this winter must have merit." This respected horseman calls for the construction of an abbatoir in Scotland.

This would facilitate a humane end for unwanted horses in Scotland, which would put an end to a great many of the welfare issues of shipping horses for slaughter in England, or worse, to transport them by ship, rail and truck to the slaughter houses in continental Europe. How familiar the message.

Equine organizations in America, in the British Isles and elsewhere, have a role to play. These issues must be brought before the political leaders of all nations that have a growing surplus of horses. Legislation is before the Welsh Assembly in Wales, the home of the Welsh Pony, to deal with the scale of equine welfare problems. It is time American politicians, those in England, Scotland and elsewhere, follow the Welsh lead. It is time elected politicians had the courage of Princess Anne, a horsewoman held in high regard in international equine circles, whose outspoken love of the horse is well known.

At least this is how I see it.

Published in Spring 2014
Tuesday, 03 December 2013 12:37

STABLE TALK

Little captures the public eye like Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron or Shire horses properly turned out performing in harness. Sadly, few fairs, exhibitions and horse shows across North America employ key individuals possessing a draft horse background. All too many have never witnessed what a public draw draft horses can be when shown in a proper facility. However, the popularity of the equine giants will continue to grow as the years pass, for the paying public has ever less occasion to see them. Given the right showcase, quality Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire turnouts offer excitement. Given due publicity and a proper facility to perform in, experience has shown the crowds that attend a draft horse performance show will grow in an exponential manner.

An increasing number of fair, exhibition and horse show officials lack vision. They offer little incentive, they provide ever less financial support for enthusiasts, who have the knowledge and the desire to build a heavy horse show–one that will win public interest. In part, this is why there are fewer fairs, exhibitions and horse shows operating each year. For more than a century the flagship of most was draft horses shown in harness. In America the Dixie Classic Fair at Winston-Salem, North Carolina; the American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri; the Clinton County Fair in Willington, Ohio; and the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, are history, as is Expo Quebec in Eastern Canada. The Canadian Western Agribition in Regina, no longer stages a draft horse show, neither does the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

We live in a world dominated by entertainment. Hence, the public that attends a fair, exhibition or horse show must be entertained. Otherwise, the paying public's support will be lost. But how can this be done?

This year, the 150th Anniversary of Eastern Ontario's Carp Fair was a roaring success. Draft horse breeders fielded 25 six-horse hitches. A total of 150 harnessed Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales were centre-ring–a horse for each year this agricultural fair has been in operation. Widely advertised, some 16,000 spectators witnessed the colourful spectacle. Members of Carp's aggressive fair board were over the moon.

Members of Calgary's Philharmonic Orchestra have provided rousing background music for the Calgary Stampede's Heavy Horse Show for over a decade. Each year, since the musicians and horsemen combined their talents, the Saddledome crowd has grown. The action, the colour and the music are infectious. Horses move to the beat centre-ring; as the crowd claps with the beat. Spectators are offered an adrenalin rush like no other. Today, the Stampede's Heavy Horse Show is a signature event.

The recent World Percheron Congress held at Des Moines was a roaring success. More than a winner, it was a watershed, for the Iowa State Fair dropped its draft horse classification years past. Promoted in the press, on radio and T.V., the newly constructed arena facilitated the memorable event. Ringside enthusiasm was evident. Class after class was shown with no program break. Percheron feed teams raced. They kept the crowd entertained when turnout exhibitors needed a program break. Spectators roared their approval. Next year's Congress will feature barrel racing and a celebrity drive-off! This brand of innovation is a win-win situation.

Costume classes always win attention. They, too, can be used to fill a gap in the show program. So, too, can a draft horse race at an outdoor show. In 1938, the Los Angeles County Fair held a Percheron Derby. What a race it was! Seven tons of horseflesh thundered down the track to the applause of 20,000 spectators. Purportedly, it was raining horseshoes.

We can't just do what we have always done. Likewise, if a heavy horse show is drawing bumper crowds year after year, there is no reason for change, for nothing succeeds as does success. However, it is important that officials with vision keep their finger on the public's pulse.

The compulsory figures at a figure skating competition are much the same as halter classes at a draft horse show. For a show's continued success, they are a must, for they set the standard for breed excellence. While fair officials often question their purpose, draft horses of both sexes and various ages found in these classes, are usually stabled in stalls that are well decorated. This interests spectators. In its heyday, the Horse Palace at Toronto's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was always crowded with spectators. It was a beehive of activity. Those who traveled to the Royal always visited the Horse Palace for a close-up of the gentle giants. Unlike the ponies, gaited horses and jumpers, the draft horses were seldom under wraps. For most spectators, a visit to the Horse Palace was more important than watching The Royal Horse Show, where tickets for a seat were costly and difficult to obtain. Given the absence of the draft horse in daily life, today's spectator, more than ever, is fascinated by the activities seen in the stables. Routine acts of bathing, grooming, shoeing, decorating and harnessing draft horses captures public interest. No exhibition in Canada knows this better than the Calgary Stampede, where every effort was made to have the draft horse exhibit stabled following the flood of 2013.

Exhibitors in the most visible stables at a fair are pressed to answer the countless questions members of the public ask. Heavy horses shown on halter can also capture public interest. In its heyday, the show ring located in the Horse Palace at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair was always packed when draft horses were shown on halter. Excitement and interest was always manifest. Crowd favourites were always applauded. When a stallion or foal acted up, a ripple of excitement would circle the show ring. Exhibitors who then took the time to interact with the awed public in the Horse Palace did much to ensure the heavy horse remained a public favourite.

Well-promoted and well-run, a draft horse show, housed in a proper facility, will draw spectators. This as never before, for today's public is in awe of the disposition, the size and great weight of a heavy horse. The ring of their steel shoes on a paved surface is an echo of the past that captures the public's attention. It is little heard elsewhere. Today's gentle giants can continue to fascinate a fair's paying public as never before if properly showcased.

At least this is how I see it.

Published in Winter 2013-2014
Thursday, 29 August 2013 10:12

STABLE TALK

When does the task before a judge of a performance class conclude? Spectators have often asked this question, as have exhibitors on occasion.

While their eyes will be on the gate, as a performance class enters a show ring, most judges give each turnout a few feet to settle into their drive before their performance is taken into account. However, once those first few feet are travelled, most judges will mentally start to score the turnouts the teamsters have in hand for errors seen. Errors can take many forms. These include the failure of a lead team to go into the show ring's corners, failure of a turnout to drive tight on the rail or failure of horses in a turnout to settle, albeit at a walk or a snappy trot, when called upon to do so. A turnout with a lame horse, a balking horse or a horse that is pulling ahead of his teammates, are errors judges note, as they will a horse being crowded by his teammate or pulling sideways, away from his teammate. Windy horses and horses that blow up, fail to impress. Judges of a turnout, be it a cart horse, a team of horses or a unicorn, four or six-horse hitch, look for horses whose heads are well set in a comfortable manner, horses up and on the bit, that are taking the line, and horses that are matched for style, stride and colour. Horses in a turnout, whatever the turnout's configuration or size, are expected to give a smooth, yet brilliant performance, where all horses are tramping in position and appear to be enjoying their drive. They should be working as one, for this is what teamwork is all about.

When a hitch crosses the show ring on the diagonal, judges will fault those back turnouts whose horses have a problem getting into line. Most judges will reward such a smooth reverse. Likewise, when turnouts are pulled into line, most judges will keep an eye on each entry as a given entry is being inspected. While difficult after a rousing drive where the adrenalin will be flowing, once in line, the horses in a turnout must settle into a stand, for this, too, most judges will consider part of the performance. This is as important to a given teamster before he is called on to back his turnout, as it is important after he has stepped his turnout forward and back into line. While a judge may have moved on, many will have their eyes focused on you whenever he finds it possible. Turnouts that fail to settle when brought to a stand, that are circled when the judge passes down a standling line of turnouts, fail to impress most judges and spectators. And rightly so.

When large performance classes are shown in two, three of four flights, teamsters must realize after first entering the show ring with their turnout, the judging continues until they have left the arena, regardless of how many times the turnout enters or leaves. Until the judge hands the ringman his marked card, a given class of turnouts is still being judged.

At least this is how I see it.

Published in Autumn 2013
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:26

STABLE TALK

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.

Published in Summer-2013
Monday, 04 March 2013 10:33

STABLE TALK

How pleasing it is to read The Draft Horse Journal and see the names of new Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire and Suffolk breeders appearing. This is particularly true in any livestock breed.

There is bound to be a story behind the foundation of a new breeding stable. More often than not, it includes the story of some genuine breeder offering a helping hand–not only by offering sound advice, but by putting his words into action.

Today, as always, new breeders–of Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires and Suffolks–are needed.

New breeders must be welcomed. However, if new breeders remain active in breed circles for but a short time and then quit, this is far worse than if they had never become involved.

To become a successful breeder, one must be prepared to work hard. Identify the type of horse you hope to breed, purchase your foundation stock wisely and stick to your own ideals through thick and thin. Above all, cultivate patience. Don't plan for next year; plan for the years ahead.

Planning to win a major show is often considered ideal. More important, the beginner should plan to breed a stable of Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire or Suffolk horses of one type.

Then try to win a major championship.

Two things cause new breeders to quit their chosen breed, albeit Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire or Suffolk. Either they are not made of the “right stuff” it takes to become a successful draft horse breeder; or they fail to start with the right foundation stock. This is where genuine breeders can play a vital role.

Ensure the horses you sell a beginner are good. Quality rather than quantity. Advise beginners along these lines. If they cannot afford to purchase your top animals, ensure you give them good value for their money. “Hothouse plants” do little for the beginner. Likewise, a beginner's failure does little for you. The beginner needs structurally-correct breeding stock that is sound;

Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire or Suffolk horses of proven bloodlines that have a history of success and are known for their character, temperament and fertility.

It is time for established breeders to look around. Help draft horse recruits get started, whatever the beginner's chosen breed might be. You will be rewarded by their successes.

Consider gifting new buyers a membership to your breed association and definitely gift them a subscription to The Draft Horse Journal!

At least this is how I see it!

Published in Spring 2013
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 10:06

STABLE TALK

How often has it been said, nothing succeeds like success. The recent 2S Clydesdale Dispersal Sale, held in Howe, Indiana, on October 26 and 27, was a success–a roaring success. It brought German and Scottish breeders of note, Canadian breeders from five provinces and American Clydesdale breeders from coast-to-coast ring-side. A stellar event, the 2S Clydesdale Dispersal Sale should quiet today's horsemen who preach doom and gloom. The enthusiastic horsemen who attended the 2S Clydesdale

Dispersal Sale arrived with one purpose in mind: To capitalize on the wealth of Clydesdale genetics Pat McMahen offered breeders throughout the Clydesdale world.

Pat McMahen joins two other American women, whose legacy of proven genetics did much to further their chosen breeds.

Matilda Dodge Wilson, Meadow Brook Farms of Howell, Michigan, was an architect. She fashioned the Meadow Brook Belgians of Progress. Today, the Belgian breed in North America is built on her stellar achievements. She was a generous lady. Her commitment to the Belgian breed's progress was only surpassed by her love of a Belgian horse.

Victoria Dreyfus, Madrey Farm at Brewster, New York, was a leader. The Percheron females she gathered as foundation stock for her breeding program included the breed's most noted broodmares. She rocked the Percheron community, when Koncarcalyps, then a 15-year-old sire, was purchased for a lofty 1937 figure. Elected to the Board of Directors of the Percheron Horse Association of America, Victoria Dreyfus was the first woman to occupy this office. (Incidentally, three of the fairer sex now sit on the American Percheron Board!)

Matilda Dodge Wilson, Victoria Dreyfus and Pat McMahen were benefactors of the Belgian, Percheron and Clydesdale breeds. Courageous ladies, who were always positive, they never questioned their chosen breed's future. Whatever the market, these ladies soldiered on. Their names will resonate in breed circles when the name horses they bred and owned surface in conversation.

Belgian breeders honour Matilda Dodge Wilson when Conqueror, Conquest and Firestone enter a conversation; Percheron breeders honour Victoria Dreyfus when Koncarcalyps, Carnona IV's Hope and Koncarhope are mentioned; while Clydesdale breeders will honour Pat McMahen, when Cocklaw Valetta, 2S Explorer's Intrepid and 2S Omega's Elegant Encore are fondly recalled.

These ladies were no shrinking violets. They weathered each storm they faced; they celebrated each success they achieved; they never lost faith in the Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales they championed and loved. Gracious ladies, their eyes were focused on the future as they honoured the past.

At least this is how I see it!

Published in Winter 2012-2013
Friday, 31 August 2012 10:20

STABLE TALK

Pedigreed livestock breeders have three means of achieving success. They can breed for genetic improvement. They can breed for profit. Or, they can breed for popular acclaim. While no horseman, Scotland's John Elliot, a respected livestock breeder, writes, these issues are addressed in A Racing and Breeding Tradition–The Horses in the Life of The Aga Khan, a book new off the press. The chapter on The Aga Khan's Thoroughbred breeding operations captured Elliot's attention. His editorial in The Scottish Farmer states, “It wasn't the sumptuous binding, the high quality paper or the beautiful pictures which were the attraction.” It was the breeding program!

Despite all technological and environmental advantages today's Thoroughbreds run little faster than Thoroughbreds did a century ago. Has the Thoroughbred horse reached its physical potential? Or, Elliot asks, have the relatively close bloodlines led to the breed's regression?

It is well known some land is superior for breeding race horses, just as some land is superior for breeding Holstein cattle, Charolais cattle or Merino sheep. Centuries before their bloodstock arrived in Europe, the pedigree of a race horse was of importance to Bedouin tribesmen. However, no amount of calculation can predict the outcome of a given mating.

The Aga Khan's grandfather bred the best to the best, then inbred, and thereafter would strategically outcross. This will surprise few draft horse breeders, for such a breeding strategy has been common practice in heavy horse circles.

Following an extensive study of Thoroughbred pedigrees in Europe, Colonel Jean-Joseph Vuillier developed his dosage formula, which states a few stallions and one mare appear repeatedly. Vuillier “based his analysis on the percentage of genetic influence of these elite few Thoroughbreds.” These special Thoroughbreds, Vuillier maintained, appear but every twenty or so years.

In Scotland, Collessie Cut Above has been one such Clydesdale. In North America, Justamere Showtime dominated the Percheron breed for over twenty years; just as the Belgian breed was dominated by Conqueror for years. England's Shire breed was dominated for years by Hillmoor Enterprise. Vuillier was spot on!

George Lambton, The Aga Khan's Irish trainer, clashed with his French trainer, Colonel Vuillier, who advanced a mathematical formula for breeding Thoroughbreds. This formula is based on points. Vuillier awarded points to key animals in the pedigree of prospective sires and dams, to ascertain which stallion should be bred to which mare. In sharp contrast, Lambton based his assessment on the breeding potential and conformation of a selected sire and dam.

Elliot writes, “What is undisputed is that when The Aga Khan's two advisers did agree on a stallion to breed to a mare, the Thoroughbreds selected were horses of outstanding merit.” I am sure Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire breeders agree, for the dominant Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons or Shires that surfaced in each breed were toppers.

Breeding for genetic improvement, breeding for profit and breeding for the showring, are arts. Many horsemen master one, fewer master two, those successful in all three are rare. Matilda G. Wilson, Meadow Brook Belgians of Howell, Michigan, belonged to this elite, for she mastered all three. So too did Reg M. Black, Blackhome Percherons of Moorefield, Ontario.

At least this is how I see it!

Published in Autumn 2012
Friday, 01 June 2012 07:33

STABLE TALK

Men and women who buy, sell, breed and/or show horses have been looked upon with suspicion for centuries. Horsemen whose ethics were questionable built this negative reputation. Sadly, this brush continues to tar horsemen in the industry. Men and women who engage themselves in the industry today need to take special care. They too, can easily be tarred by this brush.

Horsemen build their own reputations, through their actions with fellow horsemen.

Honesty is key to a horseman's success. His horses must be represented correctly. Before concluding a sale, inform the buyers all you can about the horse in question. Is he sound? What are his faults? What is his disposition? Don't pull the wool over the eyes of today's buyer, for you will soon be playing with fire. You will be burned, just as you burned the buyer!

Ensure your records are correct–birth dates, markings, parentage, etc. Register your foals while young, process your transfer of ownership following a pedigreed horse's sale. Don't keep clients waiting for their paperwork when dealing with pedigreed horses. Offer buyers the support you can. Your concern and your assistance will be appreciated. Often, it will lead to subsequent sales. The heavy horse community, in particular, is tightly-knit and small in number. News, bad news in particular, travels fast. Horsemen have countless means of communication at their disposal, more so it seems every day.

Never bad-mouth horses owned by fellow horsemen. Word gets around. Your negative comments can destroy your reputation, not theirs. Potential buyers will respond. More than likely, they will do business with the horsemen you are knocking, rather than you.

If fellow horsemen ask for your opinion, ensure they can handle your reply. If so, feel free to comment. However, remember the feathers on some individuals are easily ruffled. Some folk handle constructive criticism well; while constructive criticism causes others to react. Know the individuals you are speaking to. Whatever the topic, if something good can't be said, say nothing at all.

Pay your bills; ensure your cheques are good. A horseman is only as good as his word. People will do business with you if they trust you and they like you.

Exercise horse sense when in public, albeit a sale or show. The public's eye is on you. You need to make a favourable impression. You never know when potential buyers, potential sponsors or potential clients are watching your behaviour. Often, you have no idea who these people are. Don't make a fool of yourself and your horses centre-ring. Remember, you make your bed and it is you who has to sleep in it!

Be honest, be positive, be friendly. Agree or disagree, but always be cooperative. Watch your language, especially when dignitaries, officials, ladies or children, are in your presence. I've known horsemen who have lost countless opportunities, for the simple reason they failed to recognize this. Be competitive. This said, never act like a spoiled child should you stand top or bottom in a show ring; high-seller or low-seller in a sale ring. Ensure dignitaries, officials, judges and auctioneers are treated with respect. While it is important you are competitive, your fate is often in the hands of others.

Your actions will determine your success as a horseman. At least this is how I see it!

Published in Summer 2012
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 12:46

STABLE TALK

Is the market for today's Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire falling away?

Without question top hitch horse prospects of these four breeds capture the big dollars. Tall, stretchy horses, geldings or mares that will hitch, enjoy this fast market. These potential hitch horses must have headset, length of neck and stretch. It is important these potential hitch horses exhibit desire, stand on lots of leg and lift high in front. Correct conformation seems less important, for the harness worn by hitch horses masks traits long considered undesirable. Few individuals are ever shown on halter. A growing school of horsemen feel buyers are rewarding flash, style and headset; while giving less consideration to soundness, conformation and structural correctness. This said, today's exhibition hitches capture the public eye. They are a powerful advertisement for each of the listed draft horse breeds. However, there is cause for concern.

Hitch horses command a fast, albeit limited, trade in numbers. Today most horsemen breed for this lucrative trade. Yet, the number of Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires in exhibition hitches is a small percentage of each breed's annual foal crop. What future do hitch-type draft horses have, if exhibition hitches or teams of parade horses can only employ but a limited number?

Horse loggers will often buy hitch-type draft horses. Sadly, relatively few loggers employ draft horses today, regardless of their type. Horsemen engaged in the sport of pulling seldom buy hitch-type draft horses. They are not thick enough, rugged enough or correct enough, to participate in this sport. Horsemen who want farm or ranch teams, or a team for recreational purposes, seldom buy hitch-type draft horses. They are too tall and too inconvenient to harness, let alone house and handle.

Experience has taught successful Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron or Shire breeders that the taller, high-headed, long-legged females, with few exceptions, are less fertile. Few are known for the excellence of their progeny. All too often, these are the type of mares seen in a female six-horse hitch. Their foals, few as they are, often fail to become hitch horses like themselves. Such mares exhibit few of the feminine traits found in the successful broodmare. Many are little more than female geldings.

Today, the market for Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire draft horses of more moderate size is growing. This market has manifest itself several ways. Breeders report a growing number of enquiries from potential buyers searching for well-broke draft horses that are more traditional in type. These buyers have little interest in purchasing draft horses that stand 18 hh or more. This demand is also evident at public auctions, for Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires that are more moderate in size, often outsell their larger counterpart. This was evident at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in January. Farm teams realized a fast trade. The top price for a Belgian female was $7,900; top price for a Percheron female was $7,000. The high-priced farm team won a last bid of $13,400. Demand for smaller crossbred horses that combine light and draft horse blood, is also growing. While such horses will never outsell star hitch horse prospects, the percentage of hitch-type draft horses considered stars will always remain small. What future have the many other draft horses of hitch-type?

Are today's horsemen going too far, breeding hitch-type draft horses only? Sixty years ago horsemen went too far breeding general purpose-type draft horses only. It is time for heavy horse breeders to reflect on their breeding programs. Single trait selection has destroyed many livestock breeds. The future of the Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire is at a crossroads. At least this is how I see it!

Published in Spring 2012
Thursday, 08 December 2011 12:13

STABLE TALK

Sponsors are one of the heavy horse community's most important assets. Many draft horse events would fold without sponsorship, for a lack of funding. It is essential that draft horse breeders and draft horse exhibitors recognize this.

Exhibitors, in particular, need to thank event sponsors. In the heat of competition and/or the flush of victory, exhibitors often forget to express words of thanks to a sponsor. Never overlook personal thanks. It is important to you and to your future success. You can deliver thanks in one of two ways.

Express thanks verbally. The effort taken, helps to ensure continued sponsor support. To ensure your thanks is remembered, mail the sponsor a note or card following your win. Don't be an exhibitor that grabs his prize money and runs. Far too often exhibitors, younger exhibitors in particular, forget to express their thanks. Correct exhibitor behaviour is rewarded. Continued sponsorship depends on it.

Ensure sponsors, minor and major, receive thanks. Invite sponsors to join class winners for a photograph of a class winner. Following the event, mail the photograph to the class sponsor, with your note of thanks. Sponsors should receive a gate pass. If possible, a parking pass and a parking space will be appreciated. It is important that sponsors know when and where their class is held. If management welcomes sponsors, if officials offer sponsors rightful recognition, and if exhibitors express sincere thanks, chances are, their sponsorship will continue.

Win, place or show, or stood last in class, it is important that exhibitors are sportsmen. Nothing will sour sponsors faster than an exhibitor who makes a scene. Sponsors often bring their family, friends and business associates to draft horse events. The foul language of an exhibitor will embarrass sponsors, as will those exhibitors who are poor sports. Sponsors are easily turned off. Officials, fellow exhibitors and ringside spectators, who could be potential buyers or clients, are also turned off. Sponsors support successful events. They will withdraw their sponsorship from events that experience problems.

Management should refuse entries received from exhibitors, whose language has been coloured and whose actions in the past have been unacceptable. Everyone needs to do their part, to ensure the sponsors and spectators at an event are never embarrassed. One rotten apple can destroy a barrel of good apples.

Major sponsors should be recognized in event advertisements. Their name should appear in the program and on the those signs displayed at the event. Draft horse shows, in particular, have an ace in hand. Unlike sponsors that support the arts, athletics, etc., they can be involved. When a performance class concludes, invite the sponsor to join a teamster on his victory drive. It is important that ringmasters ensure major sponsors have an impressive victory ride. Class winners should circle the show ring, at least once, before they pass down victory lane. It is important that sponsors, as well as exhibitors, receive recognition by the event's announcer.

In short, event sponsors, major and minor, should receive every consideration. Management, officials and exhibitors need to be courteous, friendly and take time to express their appreciation. At least this is how I see it.

Published in Winter 2011-2012
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