Wednesday September 03, 2014

Nostalgic over draft horses


Events such as the Grain Millers Harvest Showdown in Yorkton always hold a special interest for me.

My career as a journalist in a small Saskatchewan city has meant writing stories covering a range of beats, from City Council to provincial politics to the Yorkton Terriers Junior hockey club to too many authors, artists and hobbyists to remember over 25 years.

But my roots are agriculture, with my fondest memories being of summers spent at summer fairs showing livestock.

It was a couple of stories on Hereford cattle in the Yorkton area for the Hereford Digest which opened the door to a career here. After they ran in the national breed publication I offered them to the then Enterprise. Editor Neil Cameron said yes, and with the cheque for the two stories came an offer of a position as the newspaper was looking for a reporter with an agricultural background.

And while I have, over the years freelanced many stories from racing greyhounds to an interview with Canadian Football Hall of Famer Gerry James, the vast majority have been about agriculture-related topics.

Interestingly, while most facets of the diverse field of agriculture interest me, horses, in particular working horses have always rated near the top of the list.

I suppose it goes back to my father who quit school after Grade 8 to stay at home to work horses. His love of the working horses was so evident, that it was inevitable I would pick up the interest by simple osmosis.

So this year’s Harvest Showdown was particularly intriguing as it featured the Knights of Valour, a group dedicated to the rebirth of the sport of medieval jousting.

You might wonder how medieval jousting fits into a column on agriculture?

Well those for who participate in heavy armour jousting, a full contact, non-choreographed form of the sport, their mounts are typically draft horses.

Breeds such as Shires, Clydesdales, Percherons, and Belgians might be best known for the work they did breaking the Canadian Prairies (as detailed in Merlin Ford’s excellent book; Horses, Harnesses & Homesteads), but in more ancient time they were prized as the animals which a carried armoured knights into battle.

Seeing the big horses galloping down the line carrying armoured jousters was simply interesting to a fellow with an affection for the big horses.

Interviewing jouster Bob Noponen it was also interesting to learn that combatants have to drop the reins before making contact with their lances. They are putting complete trust in their mounts.

Even without the control of the reins “a lot of them will actually throw their body into the hit with you,” said Noponen.

And that is part of what have horses holding such a special place for so many people.

Farmers have a connection to any stock they raise.

There is pride and satisfaction which comes with each newborn lamb or calf or brood of chicks.

But the relationship which can be forged with a horse transcends that achieved with most other farm animals.

Whether, like my father, it came working horses in the field every day, walking with them as the turned the fallow and seeded the crop, or like the cowboy riding the range following the herd, a bond forms.

And unlike most other farm animals, we have learned to include horses in our leisure lives.

The standardbred and thoroughbreds we gather to watch race, the mounts we ride in polo matches, trail rides, western sport shooting, the draft horse we watch in awe in pulls, or when they carry modern day knights on the jousting course.

The horse has become closely intertwined in many of our lives whether we were born on the farm, or simply drawn to the beautiful animals.

This year the joust just brought it all back into tighter focus for me.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor  with Yorkton This Week.



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