Friday, October 11, 2013

The Challenges and Rewards of Owning a Draft Horse

Photo via Flickr

For as long as I can remember, I have loved horses. My love for them was inherited and began when listening to my grandmother speak of “Old Denny” a draft plow horse her father owned and used on their farm. She always spoke fondly of him as she told how she and her siblings would all pile onto Denny’s massive back and ride him while her father plowed the fields. The roles of the draft breeds from my grandmother’s time was that of work horses, whether they pulled plows, lumber skidders, or fire wagons for city fire departments.

Draft, or heavy breed, horses are known for their good temperaments, gentle nature, level headedness, and unflappability. There are many draft horse breeds (Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, etc.) with horses weighing at or over a ton, and several draft pony breeds (Haflinger,  Fjord, Gypsy Vanner, etc.), shorter in stature but with a draft build.

Popularity for draft breeds continues today, with some folks moving away from saddle horses and investing in these gentle giants, who can still be used to work farm land, pull wagons, and trail ride. Some folks have become homesteaders and enjoy the tranquility of working with draft horses to mow or plow their fields. They kindle a different kind of partnership with their horses than those maintained for pleasure riding.

There are challenges when moving from owning pleasure horses to maintaining draft horses, with the most obvious being increased expense for their maintenance and upkeep.

Surprisingly, you will not see a huge increase in your feed bill, as draft horses will only eat a little more than saddle horses and not double the amount that you might think.

You may see an increase in foot care as drafts require hoof maintenance like all other horse breeds. Not all farriers will work with draft breeds, and those who do may charge more for their services and may employ stocks to get the job done.

Veterinarian expenses will not increase, as draft horses require the same vaccine doses as saddle horses.

You will need to invest in larger, draft-sized tack and equipment to properly fit your big boy. Halters, bridles, saddles, blankets, etc., can be found in some local horse tack stores and can be ordered online through many horse supply houses.

Horse-powered farm equipment may need to be purchased if you plan to work your land with your horse.

You may need to purchase a larger and wider trailer to transport your draft, which may mean selling your slant load trailer for one with straight load capacity. Stalling accommodations need to be considered because a typical 10x12 stall will not work well for a draft horse.

The biggest challenge facing those new to draft horse ownership is learning how to “drive” a horse and wagon. There are many details involved in successfully harnessing a horse and hitching him to the wagon.

There are always solutions to challenges. As with any new horse endeavor, always seek out those who have great experience in handling drafts. Many states have Amish communities from which you may employ the help of a friendly Amish man to show you the ropes of working with your draft horse. Many rural communities have folks who participate in plow days and draft pulls. These experienced horsemen may also be able to instruct you in the nuances of draft ownership and handling.

Some horse auctions, particularly those in draft horse areas, will have wagons, farm equipment, tack, and other items specifically needed for your draft horse. Some saddle makers have draft sized English and western saddles, as well as bridles, halters, etc. for your big horse.

Just as with any other breed, your draft horse is surely to provide you with many years of enjoyment and quickly become a member of your family.

By: Darlene M. Cox