Friday, September 5, 2008

Gentle Giants?

At the opening ceremony of the Rodeo I attended last weekend, I got to see three different teams of draft horses put on wagon demonstrations. There were Percherons, Belgians, and Clydesdales. I have not seen draft horses up close and personal since I was a little girl at the state fair a couple of decades ago.

Later, when we strolled through the horse barns, we were able to see the drafts up close. The Clydesdale's were in stalls, while the Percherons and Belgians were just tied in "chutes", their large hineys facing the isle. I took a few pictures of the big golden guys.

One Clydesdale was lying in his stall and we could see how massive his hoof was. I have never seen a hoof that big. It would take around 5 of My Boy's hooves to equal one of those! I can't imagine shoeing a draft! Or getting your toe stepped on by one!

I made a few observations while admiring these ginormous equines. For one, the draft horses were particularly mellow in their stalls. Even the ones that were just tied in the chutes, which were open to the isle way behind them, appeared to be cocking a leg and falling asleep. They were not fussing, pulling back, or pawing a hole. Nor were they spooking as fair goers were walking behind them. Any child could have ran right up to one of those big golden hineys and one of those horses could have kicked out.

Second, one Clydesdale, "Glen", had nothing but a lead rope tied across the front of his stall. All he had to do was lean on it slightly and it probably would have broken. He leaned his head over the rope and let passerbyer's stroke him. I rubbed my hand softly over the top of his eye and he closed it. His head was so large and so tall, I can't imagine trying to halter one of these guys!

Now, I have a few questions, that perhaps some of you draft horse experts or enthusiasts might be able to answer.

1. What is a typical draft horse's temperament like? I am speculating the term "gentle giant" came from these giants of the equine world? I did not see any foul temperaments or nervous energy coming from these teams. And I would hope not, as a horse that large and equally difficult could be a huge danger.

2. Do draft breeds live as long as other, smaller breeds of horses? I wonder if their massive size is challenging on their bones, legs, and body organs?

3. Have you ever owned a draft or draft horse cross and what characteristics did you notice the blood brought to your horse?

Any additional thoughts or comments or stories about drafts horses?


  1. First off, I can't believe you havn't been around drafts much??? We breed Perch/TB crosses at our barn. We have a beautiful perch stud who came from Colorado and he is the biggest love of them all.

    I personally have been around a lot of drafts. Pulling belgians, percherons at the stable I am at now and before Possum lived there we lived at a Shire farm.

    Drafts do tend to live shorter than regular saddle horses, just as minis can live longer than the average horse. Although I have known some drafts to live well into their 20's and be perfectly fine.

    I myself really like the drafts. they "typically" are more calm and gentle, again this can be debated on the nature versus nurture debate. Some people think percherons can be hotter of the drafts, but again I beg to differ, and believe that it has a lot to do with nuture. Belgians I really think of as the workers of the drafts. Their hugely muscular in general and do the majority of the pulling events. Shires and Clydesdales are more of the showey cart horse type. With the feathers and coloring and high stepping action helped out by their shoeing job. Drafts can also make great riding horses and can be easily trained. They are certainly known of as the "cold blooded" horses as opposed to the hot bloods of Thoroughbreds and Arabs, but don't get me wrong, they have their spunk as well. If you get the chance, hop on a draft and take it for a spin. I used to do a lot of the under saddle training at the Shire farm where they primarily drove them. They can be a ton of fun and don't be intimidated by their size.

    The perch TB crosses that we breed at our farm are great workers with nice bone and hoof and athletic to do any discipline. It adds the hot blooded TB to the more calm draft and they just have great minds. I'm sure more people will have things and opinions to add, but that has been my experience.

  2. My friend owned a Perch/TB cross and he was the sweetest thing- though a bit spoiled.

    He had a level head on his shoulders and he has gone on to great things.

    I am particularly fond of drafts myself and would love to own one someday. I went to a farm auction once and at least 6 drafters were tied around a flatbed hay wagon. And they were all just snoozing away... the thing was they weren't tied to anything but a length of heavy chain that was laid across the bed of the wagon. Not a single spat all day.

    I kick myself to this day for not buying a pair of them, they had a trained hitch of geldings that were 12 and 13 years old, that sold for $500 FOR THE PAIR.

    Someday I'll get my draft driving horse!

  3. Can't contribute much in the way of experience, but I have a story.

    Last year at the fair the Arabian show was in the morning, and the draft show was scheduled for the afternoon, so the draft teams were arriving as we were wrapping up.

    A very nice couple with a team of Belgian mares moved in to the box stalls across from us, and Sunny was fascinated. They were twice again his size. He stared. He whickered. He posed with his neck stretched out into the aisle. He preened.

    They ignored him. Ultimately he gave up trying to attract their attention and just gazed longingly at them. I have NO idea what was up with that, as he generally ignores strange horses unless they take an interest in him first.

    I loaned the couple my green Tabasco sauce (I coat lead ropes in it to discourage chewing - Sunny self-releases otherwise) because one of the mares decided she was going to eat her stall - stress, I think at being separate from her teammate in strange surroundings. We chatted for a bit - they were just getting started with drafts, and the fair was their first foray into showing. Eventually, they moved both mares into one stall where they stood contentedly ignoring the commotion going on around them. It was pretty amazing comparing the drafts' calm response to fair chaos with an Arab's initial reaction!

  4. I think the calmness in the stalls can be achieved by any normal horse who has been trained to stand patiently. I know there are some high-strung horses out there with "challenges" but most of the horses I know will just doze off when tied for long. They know they're going to be there for a while, so why fight it?

    But yes, drafts seem to be in general "gentle giants." Which isn't to say an unhandled one would be a piece of cake. I just think they tend to be mellower. However, did you know that draft blood is an important part of bucking stock breeding?

    I've had two drafts, and they weren't quite the old duds you'd expect. The mare was half shire and half percheron, and the filly was 3/4 percheron. They were mostly mellow, but the filly was your typical baby (testing boundaries) and the mare was fine out on the trail as long as she had buddies. She was very insecure and snorty when taken out by herself. She also thought that carrying a person was HARD WORK and would grunt and moan... Mostly they were just big loves though, with beautiful action when trotting out in the pasture.

    I sold them for many reasons. Pasture wear and tear with those huge hooves, the mare was TERRIBLE for hoof trimming and never fully got over it, and they were too tall to mount up without a mounting block.

    I would own one again if it were short enough to mount, or if it were a mustang cross. They're nice animals.

  5. All I know is that every single one I've ever seen I want to take to the ranch with me.

    That is all!

  6. I have ridden Belgians before, and tacking up was not easy! I had to stand on a stool to get the bridle on, but it is a very fun experience to ride a draft horse! My experience is that they are generally quiet. My trainer in MN had a Clydesdale stallion who was very gentle and my friend rode him. He also sired many TB-Clyde crosses who went on to be good dressage horses. My friend's TB-Clyde showed through Intermediare I dressage, he was a star! Several eventers at my barn and around WA have draft crosses who are steady XC mounts.

    I love the blonde hiney picture, by the way! (oh and it's passersby, to break out the English lover in me) ;-)

  7. I like your ponderings, Pony Girl :)

    Ooooh! And I just want to give a good scritch to those big golden hineys! :)

    I've always been impressed and in awe of the draft breeds and often thought of owning one.
    But the obstacles and challenges involved always put me off, like how to trailer them, tack them, mount them, hold their huge hooves to pick them out. And the sizes of the stalls and trailer to keep them in, and how their heavy bodies and hooves would probably wear out the pastures and pens.

    So, I just admire them and dream a little :)

  8. My experience with draft horses comes from working for an equine veterinarian. We have mainly clients who own Belgians and Shires. They are in general very mellow and laidback - true "gentle giants" as you say. An interesting example of their demeanor is the quantity of anesthetic or tranquilizer required in medical situations. Draft horses require very, very little "drug" to become sedated, while a high-strung breed such as an Arabian or Thoroughbred requires easily double as a rule. They truly are a cheap date! One of our clients who owns about 30ish Belgians is a tiny woman who is about 5' and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. She brought a couple of the big guys in for their annual dentals one day. After the procedure, we were standing around talking and the big boy calmly moves his head to take a look at something across the way. The little lady had been holding the lead a tad short and promptly was lifted off her feet and deposited some 4 feet away without any effort on big boy's part. It was hilarious!, and the look on his face was one of pure apology for his misperception. He truly did not know his strength!! They are absolutely amazing creatures and every time I see one, I WANT ONE!!! But, then I remember how much they eat and how much they poop and...sigh

  9. Re Percherons being "hotter" of the drafts. I love Percherons, I think they are the more refined of the drafts. This is because they actually have a strong Arab influence. That could possibly be why they may be "hotter" (for a draft).

    Re temperment. In general drafts are calmer and more mellow. I think though that a lot of people are shocked when they aren't. We need to remember that "back in the day" these horses worked HARD for their living. That would be part of why they were so calm and mellow. They were handled regularly and they didn't just sit around with excess energy to give them the desire to make trouble.

  10. Now, here's my draft story. When I was younger I used to help out the guy down the road that had Percherons. He used them in horse pulls and Kimfer and I would go along when we could. We'd groom, polish harness and help hitch to the stoneboat... which could be scary! The teams that pull competitivly CAN get a little hot then.
    You need to hitch to the stoneboat and get your a$$ out of the way!
    Anyhow, one year we were at Agribition (failry big Western show/fair) and Kimfer and I were walking the horses for some exercise. The hospital, right next door to the barns, was doing renos. Suddenly a bunch of lumber and debris was pushed off the roof! The gelding I was leading reared straight up and came right back down and just stood there with his head down. Almost like he was apologizing for reacting so strongly.
    I don't know what made me glance down but I did. His foot was right next to mine, you could maybe have slid a nail file between us. Have you ever seen the shoes on the pulling horses?! Those suckers have major cleats! I'm lucky he didn't land ON my foot and slice of a toe or two. :O

    Also, I did get to ride these guys sometimes... bareback. It was AWESOME. So soft and floaty, even at a trot. And this is coming from the girl with THE worst balance (too many car accidents)

  11. Sorry to be so chatty, remembered one more funny thing.
    Mel (the Percheron guy) used to looove when Kimfer and/or I were assisting him at team pulls.
    The announcer usually calls the driver and his helper by name, but the helper is usually called the "hooker". Mel would never give the announcers a head's up that there were girls hitching for him, he liked to hear them stumble and try to recover.
    "Up next is Mel ***** and hooking is, er um... the hitch person is"

  12. I have never owned a draft horse nor known anyone who has. I do know that they are very very big and I have always wanted to ride one or at least sit on one. I see more than I would have imagined at the auction barn but more than likely a lot of them are either Amish owned (poor babies) and/or a farmer has had them for a while and has either passed away or cutting back.

  13. Heather (my trainer) has a passion for really BIG sport horses. Two of her Clydesdales are rescues and so are not as well-mannered as many of the other horses. I mean, seriously, FORCE a Clydesdale to do something? I don't think so. I will pet them, but I'm leery of leading them. I prefer the crosses, myself. They have the solid bodies and legs I like, but aren't quite as towering.

    But then there's O. I need to ask heather if I can blog about him. I LOVE O.

    We believe Poco is a Percheron cross.

  14. Well, draft horses have a very calm temperment, which is why there were so quiet. I'm not sure how long they live, but I'm assuming it's the same as any other horse because their bones and organs would be stronger and bigger for a bigger horse.

    I love draft horses even though I've never ridden one, but would love to someday. Back to the temperment, I think they would have to be so calm so they could pull wagons and not spook at everything on the way. :-)

    P.S. I know what you mean about those hoofs, they are huge!!!!!

  15. Way back in the day when I rode english in MD we used either TB's or Holsteiners a few other warm bloods and the occasiona cold bloods thrown in. This was my trainer's horse
    Now don't ask me why the occasional cold blood was thrown in, I have no horse knowledge what so ever but they were by far my favs to work with. There was one Arab there that I would practically pay other workers to take care of I hated dealing with that monster, he was atrocious. Now the Perchs were the best by far, you could do anything to them, or nothing. They'd just stand there and wait until you were done doing whatever it was that you were doing and got back to where you were leading them to. Yup, if I had to get up on a horse again it'd be one of those.

  16. I love drafts, although they intimidate me a little because I'm so short. Lots of percheron crosses in dressage, jumping and eventing around here. Their steadier temperments mix well with TBs - like Sidetracked mentioned.

    My cousin (with no horse experience whatsoever) bought a team of Belgians . While it was a bit stupid, he managed to train his team to haul logs out of the woods and pull a wagon (that my cousin actually built from parts). This cousin should have been born about 150 years ago, lol!

    He also had a clyde cross mare that was greenbroke. I actually let my hubby take her out for a hack b/c she was so quiet. She did step on my foot once - that wasn't so fun!

  17. I LOVE draft horses and their gentle dispositions! When I was about 8 or 9 years old an old farmer up the road had a retired draft horse that he let us kids ride. We would have to stand on a barrel to get the bridle on and then jump on bareback. It was pure heaven for us!

    Thank you so much for your comments concerning our loss of Buddy. It means so much. We are doing a bit better and I know he is in a better place and out of pain. Thank you for caring. xoxox

  18. Great topic PG- We have a huge festival for Draft Horses each year in September. Hitches from all over the world come to show thier horses. The classes run from Halter and pleasure to single horse hitches and on up to the massive six horse hitch.If you want to feel thunder come to the Draft Horse Classic in Grass Valley Calif. They even have an enormous statue built at the front of the fairground to honor all the Draft horses. Their story is a sad one- used for farm and labor until the installation of gas powered vehicles- drafts were soon dumped into slaughter houses. Many popular breeds almost died out as farmers replaced their horses for vehicles. Luckily there were a few holdouts using and breeding the drafts and soon they began getting together to showcase their horses. The Classic is the result of that. For anyone interested go to the Nevada City Fairgrounds website and find the Gentle Giants or Draft Horse Classic. It is happening in two weeks for those of you close enough to go. I'll be there!

  19. i own a Clydesdale and i often describe him as an over grown lap dog. He is that docile and sweet. He will follow us in the field with no lead and even though he is not broken, we can put our children on his bare back and lead them for a huge pony ride with a lead rope. He just doesn't care.

    And he is a stallion. That's right, a stallion.

    They do tend to live shorter lives and the often have skin issue underneath those "feathers." So, they do require a little more maintenance.

    i love your blog and will make sure to visit often!

  20. Clydesdales are huge. My son,Truck had a friend of his that owned Clydesdales and he even got to see the birth of one.
    Is ginormous a word? LOL Isn’t that something that passersby can just walk right up to them? That must’ve been amazing!
    As to your questions…My son’s experience with his friends Clydesdales were that these amazing animals were quite reserved. These friends had 2 of them and the mare had foaled and my son was right there during the birth and the horse was not bothered by his presence.

    happy horsin' around!

  21. I used to have (until I gave her to my in-laws) a large Perch/Paint mare... believe it or not, she doesn't have one white spot on her! None!

    "Chloe" is very sweet and gentle but does have a spooky side like any other horse. I would say that her reactions are not quite as hot and quick as a light horse's but she will spin and run a few strides if something jumps out of the bushes. :D She definitely wouldn't run away with you though, I think she'd be too lazy in movement and mind as it'd be too much to get so worked up. She is a lovely mare and so fun to ride though. If you can get on a big guy, definitely do and be sure to take him/her for a lope, it'll feel like you're moving so slow but you sure cover a lot of ground quickly! LOL

  22. We have a percheron draft cross yearling. He is a big softy. He is very "thick" skinned. You can do anything to him and he just stands there. Kinda like a big football jock. We love him. He is very trainable and very non spooky, so far. I love draft horses. I had one at a summer camp I worked at and we used him for trail rides. He was great. Love them.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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