“It’s all about making people realize that there’s more to harnessing a horse than just throwing those straps on and going.”
– THERESA EARLY
Driving a team of draft horses sure isn’t like driving a car.
And according to Elizabeth Tardiff, who jumped at the chance to take the reins in a hands-on draft horse-driving workshop hosted by the Manitoba Belgian-Percheron Club (MBPC) at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair last week, it’s a little like being married.
“You have to pull and keep equal pressure. And when you want them to go one way, you have to pull with a little more pressure on that side,” said Tardiff, whose experience with real “green” horsepower was limited to a short spell driving a single hackney pony on a cart a few years ago.
“But you have to give on the other side. It’s give and take. It’s like being married.”
Tardiff added that her husband, in his younger days on the farm, used to drive his father’s teams. She has no plans to sell her car just yet, but the idea of using horses for daily transportation intrigues her.
“No gas! We just live near Kemnay. How long would it take me to get to town?”
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
Theresa Early, a member of the MBPC and operator of TNT Harness and Tack near Holland, said the club’s goal was to give the public a rare hands-on look at harnessing, hitching and even driving draft horses.
“It’s all about making people realize that there’s more to harnessing a horse than just throwing those straps on and going,” she said.
The workshop, which covered an explanation of collar fit and harness parts from bridles to britchen and martingales to trace tugs and lazy straps, was attended by a couple of dozen spectators. Once the horses were harnessed, a handful of helpers hitched a pair of Percheron geldings owned by Frank Ramage to a hayrack and went for a drive around the arena.
A show wagon from Creekside Belgians was quickly filled up with small children, too.
“There’s a lot of power on those lines,” said Tardiff, after a spell driving Ramage’s team.
Dr. Carol Geddes, a family doctor from Regina, gushed gratitude for the club’s efforts at bringing the world of draft horses to life for her in an experience she would never forget.
“Thank you so very much!” said Geddes. “This was so exciting for me to come to the fair and get to drive a team of Percherons. I can’t believe it!”
Geddes added that she couldn’t wait to tell her aunt, who is 95 and grew up around draft horses, all about her experience, which she noted was “much more exciting than driving a Honda Civic.”
“Wait until she finds out that I drove a team of horses! She is sure going to be surprised when I go home.”
Some tried out a training aid made from small bicycles with team lines attached to the handlebars to simulate driving a pair of horses. An extra pair of bicycles was later attached in front of the first pair to make a four-up tandem trainer.
That increased the degree of difficulty by an order of magnitude, giving novice drivers some idea of the formidable skill required to drive the four-, six-and eight-horse hitches that grace the fair’s main arena. [email protected]