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Harvest time yields working images our gentle giants

Patricia Demers / Horsetrader columnist - September 17th, 2015 - About Driving, Special Section

PatriciaDemers_170pxFall is fast approaching, and that makes me think of harvest time, which leads me to images long past of draft horses and farming. Long before we had tractors, draft horses were the original horse power that pulled all the various farming implements. In fact, horsepower is defined as a unit of measurement of power — the rate at which work is done.

There are many different standards and types of horsepower. The term was adopted in the late 18th century by Scottish engineer James Watt to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses and ponies. The development of the steam engine provided a reason to compare the output of horses with that of the engines that could replace them.

It took a lot of men and horses to do all that work. Eventually, the horses and men were put out of work by machines that could do it for much less money, effort, and a higher profit. All those various farm implements have ended up in front yards as ornaments. Can you figure out what all these implements might have been used for?

Imagine the stories of the men and animals that pulled and used these implements in their day. There are stories to tell of fortunes and busts, bountiful and bad harvests.

Small garden plows were pulled by ponies and donkeys for the home garden. There were small, medium, and large plows that a man walked behind or rode upon. Some were used to make the furrows, followed by the seeders to do the planting. The, there were the mowers, rakes, tedders, and more. The Fresno grader was the standard for a single horse and man to use for grading a road.

Draft horses are among the unsung heroes of the last centuries. They were and are the gentle giants, bred for being very quiet of personality, easy to train, sound, and with a good work ethic.

There are many draft (also, “draught”) breeds around the world. These are the most commonly found breeds in the U.S. along with their country of origin: Belgians, Ardennais, Percherons (France); Suffolk Punch, Shires and Clydesdales (Great Britain); American Cream, Spotted Draft(U.S.).

Also, there are smaller draft horses that are familiar: Fjord, Haflinger, Irish Draught, and Gypsy.

Draft horses are naturally large, averaging between 15 to 18 hands, and they are remarkably muscular. The head is large and broad with a large and kind eye. The neck is thick-set with a naturally muscular crest. Many Drafts have low withers and a short back, with upright powerful shoulders, and strong, wide, round hindquarters which allows them to easily pull large loads. They weigh a minimum of 1,500 to 2,200 lbs. or more. Draft breeds usually have thick mane and tails and great depth to their girth area.

Depending on the breed, feathering (hair) on the lower leg may be heavy, like on Clydesdales, or clean-limbed, as with the Belgian. Feathers developed to protect the lower leg from dampness and mud. Drafts that developed in warmer climates typically have less feathering.

Today, draft or heavy horses are still used on small farms, but they are most often seen by the public at shows and are popular in pulling competitions. The Percheron has the closest ties to the medieval war horse. The most recognizable Draft is the Clydesdale, thanks to the Budweiser beer commercials with their famous Studebaker hitch wagon, which also appears at events and parades.

Draft horses are typically shown at a walk, slow trot and working trot. The judge is looking for manners, good forward and high stepping movement. In teams (multiples of two or more), the judge is looking for each pair of horses to move as a unit in synchronization with each other. The horses are shown with braided and rolled manes with colorful “picks” of multicolored ribbons. The tails are also braided and decorated.

There are classes that show off the skills of the grooms who braid the horses.

This is referred to as showmanship. After being given a specific amount of time (about 20 min), the animals are then presented to the judge for inspection for the neatness and quality of the grooming job.

You can watch Draft Horses at some upcoming events:
Sounds of Thunder Draft Horse Show in Norco, Oct. 1-4
Halloween Hustle Carriage Driving Show at Stetson Ranch in Sylmar, Oct. 17
International Donkey Welfare symposium, hosted by UC Davis Nov. 6-8
Draft Horse Classic, Nevada Co. Fairgrounds, Sept. 24-27


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