Big Thunder Draft Horses on display at The Ranch in Loveland |

Big Thunder Draft Horses on display at The Ranch in Loveland

Massive draft horses were on display at the Big Thunder Draft Horse Show in Loveland, Colo., Jan. 15-17.

The three-day celebration of the world of draft horses had fans packing the barns to get up close to the gentle giants. All the shows were sold out.

Maybe it is all of the publicity that the Budweiser Clydesdales get, but people just cannot seem to get enough of these big horses. Their power and beauty probably have a lot to do with it, as well as their working history in agriculture and as the muscle that made deliveries before there were cars.

These days, draft horse teams and their hitch wagons are advertising vehicles for companies ranging from large like Express Ranches of Oklahoma down to small, family owned businesses where the love for the horses is as important as any advertising value.

The draft horse is still used in logging and agriculture. There is extensive use of the big horses in the West to haul feed to cattle, especially in areas where it snows. A rancher in North Park near Walden, Colo., once told me that the smartest thing that he ever did was to get a flatbed sled and a couple of Belgians to haul feed to his cattle in the winter. He said those horses could get hay to his cattle when nothing else could.

All draft horse breeds are quiet and have a calm temperament. They weigh 1,600 pounds or more and stand about 15.2 to 20 hands high measured from the ground to their withers. A “hand” is a standard horse measurement and equals four inches.

The most popular draft horse breeds in North America are the Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian and Shire. The Shire and the Clydesdale look identical and to show as a Shire team, all horses have to be DNA tested, as many have been cross bred with Clydsdale.

Percherons are usually black or grey, but they can be black and white, as the Express Ranches Percherons are, or dapple-gray as the horses are in the beautiful Ames Construction eight-horse hitch.

American Belgians are a light chestnut and have a flaxen mane and tail. The Clydesdale has been made famous by the Budweiser hitch. Clydesdales are usually bay in color, but roan, black, grey and chestnut also occur. Most have white markings, including white on the face, feet and legs. They also have extensive feathering, or long hair, on their lower legs.

The folks at The Ranch and Big Thunder Draft Horse Show went all out to ensure that the show was an up-close experience for the fans. The show was held in the Ranch-way Feeds indoor arena, a modern facility with plenty of excellent seating. The arena and barn area is clean and well-ventilated, with a good mix of natural and overhead lighting.

For their part, the friendly contestants made every fan feel welcome in the barn area. They were eager to answer questions and allow people up close to their huge, but extremely gentle, horses. You can imagine the impact on youngsters that being close to a horse that stands six feet tall at the shoulder had.

The fans were also welcomed by the contestants to watch as the immense horses were detailed and readied for their performances. Mane rolls, which are colorful strips of one inch cloth, were braided into the mane of the horses, and then a finishing touch of brightly colored foil flowers was added to the manes. The other end of the horse was not neglected, with tail bows adding to the color.

Next came the harnesses for each horse. The harness for a draft horse is an intricate array of collar, breeching, traces, tugs, straps and attachments that allow each horse to efficiently pull, turn, stop and back up its hitch wagon.

Depending on the materials used in construction, ornaments and the craftsman, a draft horse harness starts out at about $7,000, and can easily approach $15,000 for each horse. Factor in the hitch wagon and all of the maintenance costs for these massive show animals, and you can quickly see that showing draft horses is not for the financially fainthearted.

Many farms, family and friends band together to share the costs, which gives them a portal into the exciting world of showing draft horses. Willing volunteers play an important role and it is a great experience to be able to work with these magnificent horses and relive a little history. ❖

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