Horse power on the farm for most is only a memory, or perhaps something read about in books.
So I am always intrigued when I have the opportunity to talk to someone still interested in draft horses. For many who remain dedicated to the big horses it is usually something that is deeply felt. They love the gentle giants which once powered the farm.
It is something I can relate to since my dad told the story of quitting school after Grade 8 so he could stay home and work the horses in the field.
I’ve written about Merlin Ford in this space before. He is the Kuroki area man hoping to create a book on the draft horse and their integral part in the history of Saskatchewan.
“I was looking at all the jobs horses did. There were a whole bunch many people had probably never seen,” he said in a Yorkton This Week (YTW) interview in 2011.
Ford said most people are at least somewhat aware of horses doing farm work, pulling plows and binders and threshing machines, but at one point they did all the jobs in a city too.
“People think of milk wagon horses,” he said, but added basically everything that moved was moved with horses. Goods would arrive by train and then be taken to stores and homes by wagons drawn by draft horses.
Ford said even buildings moved drawn by 20, or more horses.
“People don’t realize, or remember that,” he said.
Some do remember and continue to breed and promote the big horses.
Take for example long-time Stockholm, SK. area farmer Louise Szumutku of Clydesdale Creek Farm who was named Clyde Person of the Year for her involvement with the draft breed.
“I have been involved with the Clydesdales over 20 years,” she said in a recent YTW interview with yours truly. “I guess you could say I married into it as my husband, Delvin, has never seen a day on the farm without them.
“You call it a business and I guess that is what it is. I look at it to be the love of the Clydesdales. They are known to be Gentle Giants with each having their own unique personalities, and each holding a place in my heart.
“I look to it as having a personal relationship with each horse.
“My husband has taught me so much and my passion for the breed grows each year. Spring time is my favourite with having the nursery ready when each colt is born. The time flies when we are out bonding with each one.”
And there is Sandy Weber. She and her husband Klaus are emigrating to Canada from South Africa, and they are going through the long course of quarantines to bring their Clydesdale stallion with them.
“Firstly we had to go into quarantine in South Africa in Bronkhorstspruit for 26 days, then we flew to Mauritius, where we were in quarantine for a total of 92 days, then we flew to Germany, where we have to be for 90 days,” she said.
Yet the time and money to bring the stallion is something Weber said she was happy to deal with.
“In South Africa we did not have a farm, I bred Clydesdales from our small holding as a hobby - which took up a lot of my time,” she said in another of my YTW interviews.
“We decided to bring our horses, because they are part of the family - the stallion is registered, and is of good breeding, but the real reason is because he is ‘my boy’ and my daughter brought her gelding because him and the stallion are inseparable, and Bailie is Kayla’s best friend.”
And then there is Greg Gallagher of Canora. He is one of those who holds the big horse, in his case, the Clydesdale, close to his heart.
Gallagher is the breeder of Donegal Dr. Pepper which was named Supreme Champion Clydesdale of the world at the World Clydesdale Show held in Madison Wis. in late October of 2011.
Gallagher has been involved in Clydesdales almost since birth. He explained his father was born in 1883, and when he turned 15 “took a team of Clydesdales to the bush in Quebec.” He said it was good business since a man made $8 a month, but a man with a team made $30.
Gallagher’s father would move west, settling just northwest of Yorkton, where he again raised Clydesdale until retiring to the city in 1960.
“So it’s in the blood,” he told me in an interview.
The amazing dedication to draft horses by people like those mentioned here may not make sense to many in this era of doing everything for the greatest returns, but when I think back to my Dad, I understand it completely and applaud such efforts to keep the big horse part of the farm story.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.