Thursday, September 29, 2011

Draft Horses,Visions of the Past

I attended a draft horse show in Hillsboro, Ohio, a week ago. I've been a fan of draft horses all my life. When I was a kid, my parents and I attended the Ohio State Fair to see the Budweiser Clydesdales. This was back in the 70's when there was no internet, no instant access to photos of these gorgeous animals. I still remember the pounding of the hooves and the jangle of the hardware as the team thundered into the coliseum. An experience forever stamped in my memory.

A few years back I was thrilled to find an annual draft horse show an hour's drive from us. We've been attending for a few years now, but didn't make it last year, I think it was weather, or a family event, can't remember exactly, so it had actually been two years since we'd attended the show. The first years Hubby and I attended I was amazed at the number of draft hitch participants. Marveled that there were still people who drove six-horse hitches and traveled with their draft horses to shows across various states. As I recall, there were eight of the six-horse hitch wagons in the one class. They had to divide the class up into two sections, with the winners vying for first place in the third round. This year, there were three. THREE! I was saddened by the decline though I've thought for a while that the show would dwindle and with the economy so sluggish, I really wasn't surprised by the downturn in entrants. There were also several canceled classes due to no entrants. As I looked around the outdoor arena, there were fewer people in attendance and it was a relatively nice day, though cloudy with a threat of rain. The entrants in the hitch classes, six-hitch,four-hitch and unicorn, were mostly from Ohio, one wagon from Indiana.

Back home I got to thinking, what will happen to the drafts? Obviously, not used in farming, except in Amish communities, of which we have many here in Ohio. Close to my home I often see Amish farmers with their Belgian drafts working their fields. But what of draft breeds in general? I was curious so looked up Spotted Draft horse. They came to mind because of my big Bo, who is actually a big Spotted Saddle Horse. We often wondered if he had some draft in his genes. I also looked up Percheron. What I found was that drafts are now being used to breed with smaller, athletic breeds, and warmbloods, for eventing and dressage horses. At least they have a place in the 21st Century. Still, I wondered about the future of the legendary work horses who were integral in working the American farms of yesteryear. My grandpa trained drafts to do farm work back in the early 1920's when some Ohio farms still hadn't transferred to tractors yet. I often wish I'd had a chance to talk with Grandpa about his horse training years, but he died before I was five. All I have are pictures and stories my mom has told me. Probably also the fate of the drafts in the future.

I'll always get a chill when I see a draft horse standing in a field, or working an Amish farm, and especially when I have the opportunity to see them roll in their wagon hitches,as long as the opportunity remains, reminding me of a less hurried time in American life.

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