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In Defense of Draft Horses
The Draft Horse In Society
Most of us have seen at least a few draft horses, whether it be a local farmer's monster of a plow horse, a beautiful Gypsy Vanner in a show, a Fresian in a magazine, or an Andalusian galloping along the moors on your television. Some drafts are beautiful, some homely, but almost all of them are willing partners. As children we looked up at them and smiled and wondered about their beautiful appearance or large size. But, many of us, especially equestrians, have seen or known at least one draft horse in a difficult situation for whom we have felt pity for.
The Draft as a Lesson Horse
Picture this scenario, a beautiful large draft horse probably 19 or more hands high (one hand=4in.) given the responsibility of taking care of the heavier beginning riding students at a large riding facility. Sounds pretty practical at first doesn’t it? Looking into the specifics though any equestrian should be easily able to see a big mistake.
The biggest mistake is that this horse is what is considered green, with little to no training. Labeled as a large simple dummy, he was pushed too fast too hard in his training. Unable to carry a rider stably at a canter, he is expected to do just as much as horses twice his age.
During his first show, with a new inexperienced rider, he hears the blasting speaker announcing the winners. Terrified, he takes the only way out off the scary situation, straight through the closed arena gates. Although he was careful not to dump his rider, people come towards him shouting and ranting. The rider proceeds with directions from the instructor, to pull sharply on the reins and harshly force him back into that scary ring. The gentle giant complies, wanting only to please the humans. After the show he is yelled at, pointed to, and prodded back into his stall.
On a normal day he is laughed at, poked at, shoved around, or feared for no reason except his size. He is treated like a spectacle in a three ring circus because he is big and “dumb”. But we need only to look carefully into his eyes and we’ll see the soul of a horse, that forgiving and beautiful nature that we all love.
The Ordinary Draft
How about this scenario of an everyday draft horse? Taken out to ride for less than 5 minutes in over a month and a half, he is the perfect gentleman. He hasn’t been touched with a brush in months and hasn’t been thoroughly brushed in over a year. He is washed maybe once a year, his feathers are starting to get infections, and his tail is filled with burrs.
He isn’t intentionally ignored, he is said to be too big, and that it takes too long to groom him all the way. Also, because he is so tall, and was never taught how to put his head down, his stiff halter is left on all the time for convenience sake. It is starting to make several permanent marks on his nose which the owner thinks will come off easily with the grooming she or he never has time for.
The "Gentle Giants"
So, what does this information mean? Are draft horses abused/misused more than other horses? Maybe, but mostly they are misunderstood. Their stories compel us to see them differently.
These “gentle giants” contain the spirit that we see in our quarter horses, Arabians, mustangs, etc. but it seems that they endure twice as many misunderstandings. Yet most of them put up with theses problems with the patience of a saint and the forgiveness of a child. While not all draft horses possess this trademark personality, the majority do.
One day when I was working around a draft horse I stopped for a moment and just looked at him. I realized that he was, in a way, the same as the light horse in the other stall. Sure, the draft horse was bigger, his hooves were almost the size of a bowling ball, but as I looked into his eyes it was almost as if I could see his spirit. All his troubles were laid out there for everyone to see. It was only his size that got in the way of me seeing it. He was just as hungry (it was dinner time), just as calm, just as forgiving as any other horse.
If only we could see these “gentle giants” in a way that they want us to, as a soft hearted companion, with the burning desire to please, then maybe we could unlock another treasure chest of talent in the equestrian world.