For my post today I want to start off with a little family history. I have been a part of the draft horse community since the day I was born. I could even go as far as to say that I was a part of it before I was even born. My family became a part of the draft horse community through my great grandpa because all he would use was draft horses (primarily Belgians) on the farm. Because of this my grandpa was apart of this lifestyle all of his young life and decided to continue it with his own family.
My grandma and grandpa that started our horse showing hobby. Yes, I know my my grandma is blinking in this picture, it was hard to get a picture of all three together without one blinking. The big guy between them is Bob.
Originally my grandpa started off just using the horses to do some farm work (like my great grandpa) but then it evolved into to showing them at competitions at county fairs, state fairs and expos. As a result, both my dad and aunt have also brought up their families in the draft horse community and lifestyle. It has become sort of a family “hobby” even though I would consider it more of a lifestyle than anything. As much as I would love to show horses everyday all year round, my family cannot. We all have our other jobs so we cannot live off of showing horses but there are plenty of families that can. Even though we are what is considered a hobby farm, we take the competitions just as serious as the profession teams and love it all just the same.
Here is the whole gang that takes part in the activities. On the left of my grandma is my family (sister, mom, dad and I) and on the right of my grandpa is my aunt’s family (her husband is in the back and the twins are on my grandparents laps). In the background is our show wagon and we are sitting on our braiding bench at the wash station for the horses at Hutchinson’s county fair.
My family started off mainly showing Belgians but over the years we slowly started to show more Percherons and now we just show Percherons, more specifically geldings and a couple of mares. We mainly made the switch because they are easier to care for due to them being black, it makes washing them much easier than the other two breeds. Although I have never owned a Clydesdale some of my best friends from the draft horse community do so I get to be around them just as much as the others. I can easily say that the draft horse community is one big family that has each others backs and help each other whenever they can.
On the left is a picture of some of the gang including my boyfriend at Rochester’s county fair and on the right is a picture of one of our horse showing friends with me and my sister at our grandparent’s anniversary this fall. Draft horse families are usually invited to each other’s family functions since they are basically consisted part of the family.
Now that I have given a little family history, I am now going to explain draft horse showing a little more and explain the process of getting ready to show. Draft horse showing tends to refer to horse shows that are exclusively for the draft horse breeds. These shows usually refer to specific horse show competitions that feature driving exhibits (to have their horses be judged in harness pulling a wagon or cart), halter classes (to show a horse by leading it and be judged on the horses confirmation and breeding), some riding classes (not all competitions have these because it is rare) and fun games to play in between each class. Draft horse shows are different from other draft horse related competitions such as pulling, farm comps and obstacle course races.
Here are some picture of driving/harness classes that we partake in including the “Unicorn” hitch class and women’s cart class.
Here are some examples of halter classes and what it looks like in the final line up for placing.
***If you want more information on how the actual class structure and competitions work check out some of the links below. Mainly the judge looks at how the horses are handles and presented. They also look for how the harness looks/if everything is correctly put on, if the tail, mane and foretop of the horses are done and if the horse has good action/stance. There are other details the judge looks at which are also explained in the links and there are also sections that go into more detail about what classes can be seen at a horse show and what they mean.***
Here are some more examples of different driving/harness classes including: 6 horse hitch class, women’s team class (which I drive), men’s team class and an example of a men’s cart line up to be judged for placement.
Overall there is a lot of equipment involved in horse showing. Draft horse owners usually have specially designed trucks and trailers that haul the horses and their equipment to the competitions and back. Hobby farms like mine tend to use multiple trucks and trailers to haul everything while higher end/professional farms use a special semi trailer. We also have a couple sets of different equipment used to show and condition the horses. We have work/field harness, practice wagons/farming equipment and a few practice carts/stone boats. On top of that we have two sets of show harness, a show wagon and two show carts. Besides that we also have a couple sets of stall/tack decorations, tack stall items and other miscellaneous equipment that is needs to make the whole process run smoothly.
Here are some examples of what we use to practice driving and condition our horses. The first two pictures are images of our sleigh we use in the winter and what our work harness looks like. The second two pictures are examples of what a practice wagon looks like and what a stone boat looks like.
These pictures are images of what our show wagon and cart look like and a close up example of what show harness tends to look like.
For harness classes there are no standard rules on what to wear but drivers tend to were formal attire or business clothing. For halter classes usually the presenter/owner needs to wear nice jeans/kakis, a polo top/top representing their farm (logo), a belt and nice shoes (such as steal toes boots or cowboy boots). The way you represent yourself and your horses goes a long way in the ring and can be the deciding factor on who get first place. Horse showing season usually starts in late june and ends in early september but it changes every year. It all depends on what shows your farm wants to go to and when they are. Technically the show season can go all year round if it wanted too but usually ends with the world congress shows.
This is what our halter showing attire tends to look like. Our shirts have our farms name and location on it and our names. The second picture is of the number we pin on the back of our shirt so the judge knows who we are. These pictures also show some of the miscellaneous equipment and items we need to show (in the left picture there is one of our harness racks, wheelbarrow and sign. In the right there is our wagon, one of our chairs and one of our trashcans.)
Before we can even get to the competitions there is a lot to be done. All year round the horses are worked in some way or another but as the season approaches (about 3 months before the season) the horses are exercised and worked a little more.Usually a couple days before leaving for the competition we give the horses a break and focus on what needs to be prepared before leaving. We check to see that all the equipment does not have any issues, clean it all and pack it away into/on the trailers that we use. We then choose what decorations we want to hang over and around our stalls/tack to represent our farm and family.The night before we leave we usually wash all the horses so they look nice and are ready to go the next day. Sometimes we wash them the day of the competition (depends on how far we travel) or at least clean them up so there is no dirt on them. Some horses need more attention when it comes to bathing them. For example, the Clydesdales need a little more time due to their feathering which needs to be pure white when showing.
The first picture is once again an image of our sleigh (a way we exercise our horses in the winter). The next three pictures are of what stall/tack decorations can look like. This is where the presenters/owners have artistic liberty to present and show off their personal style. By the way, don’t mind my grandma in the picture with the sign she was being silly that day.
Here are more examples of what you can see at the stalls/tack area. The first one is a close up of our sign and the second picture is of one of the name tags I made for one of our horses (R.I.P “Big” Mike).
Here are some examples of how we wash draft horses. Yes, you do need a braiding bench or stepping stool to wash the back and ears of the horses. They tend to be really tall and if they don’t want to be washed they seem to make themselves even taller making things difficult especially for someone as short as me. The second picture is a close up example of how Clydesdale owners pay extra attention to the feathering of the horse while washing.
When we are ready to leave we pack up the horses and roll out. The most horses that a presenter/owner can bring to a competitions is nine but this rule can be bend at some places. My family usually brings no more than 6 since that is all we are really going to need. Presenters usually leave a day before the show so they can get everything settled and set up so it is ready to go when the show starts. On the morning of the show the horses are brushed down and have fly stray put on them. The horses then have their hooves painted black with hoof polish or black spray paint (although that is bad for the horses hooves) to show the size of the hooves. An exception the this rule is the Clydesdales and Shires who leave their hooves white to match their white leg markings. They also have powder put on their feathering to make their markings and feathering even whiter (the Belgians also do this).
Here are two examples of what the horses hooves look like after painting them or if they are left alone (in the Clydesdale and Shire’s case).
While the hooves dry the mane is rolled, foretop is braided, the tails are put up and flowers are put in. This is done to help show off the horses’ body more without the hair getting in the way, it also makes the horses look much more professional and presentable looking. After this is done the horses are harnessed and the harness is wiped down to remove dust or fingerprints/smudges. Right before the class is to enter the ring the horses are hitched to the wagon or cart and make a practice run outside of the ring to get the horses ready and check that everything is set right. For halter classes the horses are prepared a little differently. They go throughout the same process all the way up to the hove painting. After that their main and foretops are decorated differently for different breeds and genders of draft horses and their tails are tied up. Once they are dressed up they head straight for the ring.
The top left picture is an example of “rolling” the mane, the picture next to it is an example of what a braided foretop looks like (that is Excel by the way). The lower left picture is an example of a finished tail bun and the picture next to it is a example of putting the “flowers” in the mane.
On the left is a diagram of all the parts of a work harness, a show harness is a little different. The picture next to it is an example of what the barn looks like when getting ready to show.
Overall, the main thing that I love so much about the draft horse community is the family feel of it and camaraderie of it all. In the horse showing community we are all one big family. Yes there may be some big rivalries but we all have each others backs no matter what. A lot of us grew up together and go to the same shows every year so we know each other pretty well. We usually have potlucks every night at the competitions in which each farm brings something from their family recipe book and we sit down and BS until the sun comes up. We have even been known to through a pretty good Shindig (a party with music and dancing) and play some interesting games like “corn hole”/bag toss, “whip the bottle” and horse arena football.
The picture on the left is an image of everyone’s favorite horse “Big” Mike and my boyfriend Henry (“Big” Mike will be missed greatly this horse showing season). The second picture is what “corn hole” or bag toss looks like.
In the end, this lifestyle/hobby brings my family together and lets me have a close relationship with relatives that I normally wouldn’t get to see much of. It also has provided me some of my best friends in the world and has taught me many lessons that helped make me who I am to this day. I don not say this a lot but I feel incredibly blessed to be apart of this community and lifestyle. I know one day I wont be able to be apart of it like I use to be but I will always have the memories and that will be good enough for me. It is a lot of hard work and takes up a lot of my spare time in the summers but I would not change it in the world because it is a very special and unique thing to me.
Here is a picture of my sister and grandma sharing a blanket in our tack room of our trailer. This picture is a good example of how close our family is. Those two were poking fun at each other and joking around the whole time they sat together. The second picture is one of my senior pictures that I think does a good job expressing how much I love these horses and what we do. The big guy next to me is named Doc.
Hopefully this post helps explain the draft horse community a little more and the process of horse showing. I know I spoke a lot about my own experience but it correlates a lot with how the community/horse showing world works. If any of you have any questions about any part of horse showing or about draft horses at all do not be afraid to ask. Once again I have pretty much heard it all. If any of you want to witness it firsthand just stop by the horse barn at your county fair or the showing arena on the fairgrounds of your county fair, i’m sure there will be draft horses there. If not you can always see them at the Minnesota State Fair (my family shows there every year). I also know there is a draft horse show at Marshall’s county fair. However, my family does not go to it because it is during another one of our fairs but I hear it is a nice set up.
Here are some examples of what a horse barn or “equine center” can look like at a county or state fair and how the inside can be set up.
If you want more information on the draft horse community or how draft horse showing works, check out these links. There is one of my favorite article on this list that explains how showing drafts is not like showing other horse breeds (which is so true). Besides that there is some good information on all of the steps and the whole process of showing draft horses. You can also check out videos of draft horse shows on youtube. Check it out!
Here are two pictures I took a while back of some of the boys and our last Belgian “Princess” (R.I.P). The snow always makes them look so beautiful and majestic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_horse_showing (wiki article on draft horse showing. Look at “Driving Competitions” and “Preparation for a Show” to see how the classes are judged)
http://www.horsenation.com/2014/08/19/8-reasons-showing-drafts-is-not-like-showing-horses/ (article on “8 reasons why showing drafts is not like showing horses”)
http://www.countrysidemag.com/91-6/kay_wolfe/ (article on draft horses and the community)