Blog by Christine Watt 2010/02/16
“This is the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” (R.E.M.) With all due respect to Michael Stipe for this brave and defiant sentiment; I don’t feel fine there are some things that I don’t want to see disappear into the dusty annuls of history.
The Heavy Draft Horses are top of the list and the world they represent is of vital importance to us. They are our last link to a world that depended on horse power and not machines to feed people. Their survival is more important to our collective consciousness than we realise. When we loose them we are in danger of loosing our humanity and becoming machines like the ones we use.
All of the heavy draft breeds are rare, and endangered. Many of the breeds are listed as critical and yet we make far more fuss over the wild animals than we do over these magnificent giant horses who have served man kind selflessly for centuries. For their labour we have repaid them with the abattoir and massacred them wholesale after the tractor and trucks came out; a slaughter on a larger scale than the American Bison.
The heavy draft horses definitely have a place in our world today. All over the world people are beginning to realise this and there is a massive resurgence of interest in all the heavy draft horse breeds; not just because of a nostalgia trip, but because practically they are wonderful animals. They are used for everything from general hacking to working your small farm.
Heavy Draft Horses have a reputation for having fabulous temperaments and the ones I know best are the ones we breed; the Percherons. When you get on a Percheron’s back for the first time they smile, provided of course they have not been beaten and bullied into submission. They are the gentlest of giants and have huge consciousnesses. They are the most rewarding of horses to work with because they are so willing and give so much.
Here in South Africa the Percherons are the most numerous of the draft horse breeds in the country and are used even in the dressage arena and the D and C grade jumping classes. They can neither jump very high nor run very fast, but when they gallop the earth thunders and that is one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done.
The Percherons are amongst the prettiest of the heavy draft horse breeds; the French having introduced Arab blood into them to make their heads more delicate. From a point of view of extreme power and beauty the Percherons are very hard to beat. A fit working horse will pull up to five tons on wheels and his own weight, which is around a ton, at a dead pull.
Carriage driving is getting big around the world and the Percherons are brilliant for this. There is nothing more showy than a pair of massive, snowy, one ton Percherons pulling a carriage. They collect well and are surprisingly nimble for all their size. The big dark Bay Percherons are rare and utterly gorgeous.
Picture a village where time has stood still. The heavy draft horses are still pulling the beer carts and delivering the morning milk. Where, the local green grocer and the furniture store, have a couple of giants to pull their removal vans and delivery carts. And out in the fields, on the small farms, the horses are being used. Imagine if there were no motor cars in the streets of this village, only buggies and all manner of horses pulling them. What a delightful green village it would be. Just imagine how you would feel visiting this village. You would be transported back to a time when humans were kinder to the earth and the rhythm of life was slower and richer. For this, all the heavy draft horses in the world are worth our absolute reverence.