Wednesday, February 02, 2005

788 Draft Horses making a comeback

When my mother was a little girl, her family still kept a carriage horse in the barn that did useful tasks like pulling their cars out of the muddy lanes that approached their graceful farm home two miles from the main road near Franklin Grove, Illinois. I believe she told me the children never rode "Beauty" because she hadn't been broken to ride. Because I was madly in love with horses, I couldn't imagine having a horse that close and NOT riding it. My grandparents were "early adopters" and owned automobiles probably before 1910. Draft horses were still used in the fields because tractors weren't reliable enough, but I believe they were stabled at the tenant farm barn. My father's family in the next county, however, used draft horses regularly in farming. My father told me they sometimes rode one to church, the Pine Creek Church of the Brethren (now disbanded). Draft horses are so massive, so wide and so powerful, I have difficulty picturing this. My grandmother was blind and the four older children would have been quite small. But then, picturing her walking there with little ones doesn't read either.

Tomorrow and Friday the Eastern States Draft Horse Sales will be at the Ohio Expo Center. I'm ticking off the list of friends who remotely might be interested, and can't think of a one, so I may have to go alone. Maybe Bev. That woman will try anything once and turn it into an art project.

According to Draft Horse Journal:

"The Industrial Revolution proved to be responsible for both the rise and collapse of the heavy horse in America. Demand for draft animals was spurred on by the growing transportation, construction and agricultural needs of the nation. The last half of the 19th century made draft horse breeding both essential and profitable. Massive importations from Europe took place. The period also ushered in the development of the present day breeds of heavy horses. The number of horses and mules in The United States peaked in 1920, at about 26 million. The groundwork for today's agriculture had been laid.

The horse lost the battle of the streets to the automotive industry rather quickly. As for the battle of the agricultural fields, it fought very tenaciously, but eventually yielded in most cases to greatly improved tractor power. By 1950, it was indeed, on thin ice. "Get big or get out" was heard across the nation and many did just that. It appeared to many that the draft horse was destined for the museum, a relic of days gone by.

Since that time, the draft breeds have not only stabilized their numbers, but once more enjoy a thriving trade. The fact that the old order Amish decided in the '20s to reject tractor power in the fields was a considerable factor, as were the dedicated breeders that had produced these splendid breeds." Read more.

February must be a good time for draft horse sales, because I see that during this month there are two in Florida, one in Illinois, one in East Lansing, two in Missouri, one in Orange City, Iowa, and one in Winona, Minnesota. Probably can't get into the fields so why not go hang out at the barn with the guys. Many midwest Amish vacation in Florida.

Logo of the Draft Horse Journal

Cute bumper sticker and great photos here. North American Spotted Draft Horse Association


Sharon Wertz said...

I have drafts in Phoenix, AZ, and have seen their popularity rise in the last fifteen years. In 1990 when I first bought my Belgian stallion, there were only about 30 draft horses in the whole state, and he was the only stallion. Now there are several hundred, and they are showing up in 4H, local shows, and parades.

We ride and drive our horses, using them for both English and Western riding. (One of our pureblood Belgians even jumps!) They make great 4H horses for beginning riders because of their gentle disposition and quiet nature.

Drafts truely are the "gentle giants"

Ricochet said...

Yes, us draft horses are getting quite popular. Many people are intrigued with the work horses, restoring old farm equipment and carriage rides. And, looking at me, you need not wonder why! heh.