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BIG News on the Dressage Front

But not big in the way you expect, given the recent spate of FEI-related posts. And now for something completely different:

From Fran Jurga, a report that on Friday, July 16th, under the motto, the heavy brigade is on its way, 70 draft horses of various breeds (called “cart horses” in Europe), as well as carriages and working teams will compete in the First North Rhine-Westphalian (NRW) Cart Horse Day at Aachen.

The dressage riders and show jumpers will need to keep a tight rein on their mounts when these fellows rumble by. The refined warmbloods will be face-to-face with their cold-blooded root-stock. And they’d better watch out that the big boys don’t steal their show, or at least inspire a children’s book or two.

My all-time favorite and most beloved mare is a Percheron. Millie taught me everything. Maira is half Percheron. Windsong’s Justa Firestorm is a Percheron stallion. His son, “Buster,” is Perch/TB. You get the drift. Their nobility and grace, and courage in stressful times cannot be matched. Millie and I tried dressage. It was an unparalleled disaster. Not only am I terrible at dressage, but Millie’s typical but beautiful draft conformation naturally made it difficult for her to rock back on her haunches and carry herself properly. It was a battle. Why torture her for no good reason? We decided to stick with what we do best–hunt for a couple of hours and go home, triumphant. Trail ride and enjoy it immensely.

Below I have posted a YouTube video of a Percheron training that really takes me back. I believe that what you see in this video is typically what you get when trying to get a draft horse to do dressage. Draft horses. Conformationally appropriate? No. Willing? Yes. Capable? Yes (????)

I hopehopehope that the beauties of Aachen wow them with more than just the rumbling of the earth! I’d give quite a lot to be there.

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Marksman Millie by Request

Marksman Millie by Request

Marksman Millie and Julia G. Scheibel

Marksman Millie and Julia G. Scheibel photo by Laura Rose Heymann

Don’t bother clicking because that’s as big as it gets!

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Percheron Nostalgia

Percheron Nostalgia

It’s 52℉ outside (unseasonably warm by about 20℉ ) and wind is gusting to about 60 mph, with a constant force of about 30 mph. Last night I could hear the standing seam tin roof rippling in the wind like a fake thunderstorm sound effect. It was kind of scary, as if we were all about to depart for Oz.

Today it’s clear and very noisy outside, and I’m grateful I took down the dying ancient tree that hovered over the house since the Civil War. It might not have hovered anymore last night. The wind vane on the roof is screeching (who’s going to climb up and oil it???? Not me.) and I expect to lose power any minute. The only place I’ve ever been that’s windier than my little mountain is Utah. I don’t know how they live there. I DO know that you have to have a separate bank account for hairspray.

I suppose most horses in Utah and other chronically windy places are accustomed to the wind and don’t greet it like a monster. Here, on the other hand, most horses don’t get to go out on days like this. Hunts are cancelled mostly because scenting is bad but also because riders would populate the sky like blackbirds in autumn.

Days like today make me seriously nostalgic for my Percheron mare Millie. She never made it through a 4 hour hunt (and so neither did I), but she was a surprisingly keen hunter, who moved out with a forward gate reserved exclusively for hunts. As with most drafts, ringwork was accomplished at the pace of a snail, with a little head tossing and a couple of attempts at bucks to express displeasure. But hunting with her was a thrill.

Marksman Millie, age 20

Marksman Millie, age 20

The best thing of all was her attitude toward things that scared the bejesus out of all the other horses. Tractor monsters? Teams of silent but cunning cyclists encroaching from the rear? Charging bulls? Scattering sheep? Men in trees with chainsaws? Nothing to bat an eyelash about. Snorts of derision at the pronking, fearful horses around her, dumping their riders left and right, Millie seemed to say, “oh for heaven sake, let’s just get on with it!” She always made me feel safe. And I needed to feel safe, because I needed a packer.

There’s no packer like a Percheron packer. Peace and calm oozes from every giant pore. If you fall, you just fall onto another part of a giant like these. Safe!!!!
It was a long way down, but I so rarely made that trip. It was a little different on the 14.2 hh QH gelding that “fit” me better. I felt like I was driving a speedy little go-cart that would wheel out of control at any moment, splattering me across the pavement like a tossed soda. NO thanks. I want to be UP HIGH. What others interpret as dullness, mental slowness, I always saw as careful thoughtfulness. Mindful attention to what has been asked. Though any Percheron could squash a human like a bug with little effort, they are kind and loving, and full of try. Millie always thought that perhaps it was better that she make the decision as to whether to jump the stream or plow through. That’s the beauty of a packer. They decide, and they keep you safe. It’s a lump-in-the-throat-inducing memory for me to think of every time she saved my life.

Yet not all Percherons are reserved as husband horses or packers. Take a look at Brego, The Eventing Percheron. Now there’s a horse with real heart. An exemplary Percheron. One who shows what the breed is really capable of in the hands of a loving and skilled person. Skip on over to YouTube and type in “Percheron,” and you’ll find all sorts of action-packed video of these horses moving fast and scary in hair-raising demonstrations of carriage driving. And then there are the horses who do the jobs for which they are bred–the honorable ones who plow fields beside their partners every day, with skill and a fortitude almost unknown elsewhere in the horse world. I love them, I love them, I love them.

Give me the peace, the honor, the fearlessness and the generosity of a Percheron any windy day. Any day.

For more on Percherons, see The Percheron Horse Association of America’s website. Tons of history and beautiful photos of the gentle giant horse of my heart.

Equine eye candy. Now these are what I call horses!
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