Mexican Brewers, Cuauhtemoc, still use Percheron Carthorses to Pull Beer Wagons
Like a Field of Huge, White Statues.
The Percherons of Cuauhtémoc
One of the most beautiful sights now missing from the British countryside must be that of the great carthorses which worked our fields for hundreds of years, before the advent of the “infernal” combustion engine rendered them too slow and economically unviable. When we do come across one of the great Shires, Clydesdales, Suffolk Punches, and not forgetting the magnificent Percherons, the subject of this article today, we stand and gape as they majestically pass by.
I met these impressive creatures on a recent trip to Toluca, Mexico, where they were still being used to pull beer wagons, albeit only on ceremonial occasions. This was the Cuauhtémoc brewery, one of the nation’s largest, and supplier of one of my favourite beers in the whole wide world, Bohemia, among other brands.
Toluca is a bustling town situated in the shadow of a huge volcano, about 80 miles south of the county’s capital, Mexico City, known as merely “Mexico” or often, the DF, or Distrito Federal. The Mexican’s penchant to refer to their mega-capital as Mexico, with out adding City, in speech as well as on road signs throughout the Republic, can be disconcerting as you enter the country by means of the US border. After driving south for a couple of hundred miles you are still being advised that Mexico is another 2000 kilometres. “Damn” drivers say, scratching their heads, “Ain’t we in the damn country yet?” Then they are further confused by seeing a sign in every village they pass, “Taller.” “Durn it” they mutter uneasily, “who cares if the tallest muffuger lives there?” The word actually means workshop and a mechanic is generally housed within. Then there is the “Tire Basura.” “Lord,” the harassed driver squawks, “I see basura means garbage, but do they have so many tires (US spelling) they have special places to throw them away? Nope. “Tire” pronounced teereh, means throw. Tire, or tyre in Spanish is llanta - and even I can’t do the “double L” sound after 15 years of working in Mexico!
But we have digressed too far; back to the Percherons.
The Percheron is one of the largest yet perhaps the most elegant and spirited of the draught horses, because of a liberal dollop of hot Arab blood. Their name comes from where they were first bred in La Perche, France, and the mixing of Flemish and Oriental stock has bloodlines going back to the Seventh Century, AD. When one studies these magnificent stallions, it is not hard to understand they were first bred as war-horses, to carry knights clad in full armour into battle, or on the jousting fields. Can you imagine the fear struck into the hearts of the enemy when they saw a beast up to 19 hands high and weighing as much as 2,700 pounds, with a full suited knight aboard, about to thunder into them? It is only during the last few hundred years they have been assigned to the humble work of tilling the fields and hauling beer wagons.
Perhaps no better description of the Percheron exists than is found in the vade mecum of horsey publications, Lippincotts:
“…he may attain ton-weight and yet possess a refinement of head and neck, a general suppleness of form, a texture of bone and hoof, a degree of quality and finish throughout, together with an energetic, yet perfectly tractable temperament and disposition not equalled in any other draft breed…” Blimey! Try saying that about Dobbins up the riding school. These are, indeed, singular animals.
My first impression upon beholding the Cuauhtémoc Percherons was that I was looking at a paddock filled with huge, white, marble statues. The beasts have a presence of immense strength, yet controlled calm. You see the same with a herd of elephants or Spanish fighting bulls. Although you don’t sense the same hair-trigger violence inherent in the bulls. There were only nine of their herd on display, but they seemed to fill the large field, following us around to bare large teeth and nibble gently at our diffident fingers or sleeves. You had the feeling they were aware of the danger their huge bulk and power represented and were extra careful with us reverent ants. In fact, I asked Arturo, head groom, if the horses were even violent. “I have never seen this, senor,” he shrugged. “But once, Bohemia,” he indicated a 1000 kilo gelding, “stood on my wife, Elvira’s foot.” I winced. “Yes,” Arturo smiled ruefully at the memory, “She did have a hairline fracture, but no lasting damage…the problem was Bohemia didn’t know he was standing on her…I think he was quite mortified when she screamed!”
The company seeks new stock from Europe and North America. I wondered why that was necessary with such a large herd and several virile looking stallions. “Eet is because if the, how you say, breeding too close?” Arturo explained. “We have been getting premature births and a disease called isoritrolisis.” (antibodies passed in nursing mare’s milk attack foal’s red corpuscles).
I was shocked to discover artificial insemination was ruled out, because semen from a top stud could cost more than $5,000 per insemination. Heck, wish my seed had some commercial value, I have regularly had to pay in order to discharge it! But then, I am nowhere near as handsome as a Percheron stallion…and a glance at their equipment tells you, they don’t take no for an answer, girls!
Hearing the name “Bohemia” had given me a thirst, so we adjourned to the tack room and downed a cold one each. Mexico’s informality is like a breath of fresh air after over-regulated and mean-minded Britain: goodness, couldn’t we learn a lot from our Latin brothers about how to live?
“The coach, drays and harness comes from Germany, Roberto,” Arturo explained. “We have no artisans able to fashion the great sizes of the gear here,” he said. I looked at a yoke I could have comfortably passed my 260 pound frame through. The stallion, Colossal, was brought over to be harnessed. It took two men to pass the yoke over his great, lofty head. “The piel…leather? Is cold now,” explained my host. “But with the heat and sweat it will soon mould to his body” The stallions moved restlessly in the stables waiting to be kitted-up. “They love to work,” said Arturo, “They get bored here all the time, and,” he shrugged, “without the amor” (sex). I nodded empathetically; had had a few slim pickings myself of late.
As I remember my marvellous visit to this great herd and its kindly, professional keeper who obviously adored his charges, the protagonists, the Percherons, pass through my mind like some great, stunning Greek or Roman frieze. How rewarding to know they will live out their lives in comfort and security with just enough labour to banish the boredom.
Would all our brother animals got such a good deal from mankind.