As any draft horse farm owner can tell one, preparing a horse for draft horse shows takes a lot of work from the moment the new horse comes to the farm up until just before the start of the show.
Blue Ribbon Days owner Albert Cleve, 71, from Farmington, Missouri, said they have to first break the percherons when they’re 3 years old. After the horse is broke, they take another six months to train the horse to get them to the point where the horse can really go to the show.
“You know, where they’re used to traffic and used to people and can handle that,” he said.
Then they begin the fitting process, where the horses become fit and muscled up like football players at a fall camp, Cleve said.
“You get them ready to go to shows and from there, you know, as far as right before the show we’ll bring them in and we’ll trim the hair out of their ears, trim the top of the mane there where the bridle goes, the bridle path, and clip any long hair on their face, kind of like shaving a man,” he said.
Once they get the horses to the show location, they’ll wash the horses and get them completely clean, put shoes on them – which Cleve said is part of the training in getting them ready to drive.
Cleve said his trainer, Dean Woodbury keeps the horses in Indiana and does everything for the horses – fits them, shoes them, breaks them, drives them, drives the semi-truck to the show and readies the horses.
“When [my wife] Karen and I get here, they’re here and we set up chairs, claim our spot and scout a little bit, you know, but Dean and Kelly [Woodbury] and their two children, who are adults now, do all the rest of the work,” Cleve said.
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To get them ready for a show the day of a show, they take the horse out of its stable, cross tie it and vacuum any dust off its coat, after which they’ll brush the horse all over with a coarse brush and a fine brush.
“It takes, I call it elbow grease,” Cleve said.
Then they paint the horse’s hooves black, braid the manes, putting in a ribbon, put flowers in the manes, tie the tails and put a little bun on it, all before they put the harness on the horse.
“It’d take somewhere around two hours,” Cleve said. “There’ll be about, oh, five, six of us that’ll get them ready. It takes a while, and then of course just hooking six takes 15, 20 minutes.”
To hook the team of horses to the wagon, they have to take the team out and put them on the wagon, run the lines and put the swing pole on, which is the middle, and hook all that up and get the lead team out in the lead, according to Cleve.
Blue Ribbon Days had participated in the ladies’ cart class, which hooks one horse up to a cart; the team class, which hooks two horses up to a wagon; the four-horse hitch, which hooks four horses up to a wagon; and of course the six-horse hitch, which hooks six horses up to a wagon; as well as the 5 years and older and pairs halter classes, both of which they took first place. In the unicorn class, three horses are hooked up to a wagon with one in the lead.
Luckily, the only thing that needs to change between the different classes is getting the team or teams of horses needed to the wagon or the single horse to the cart. They don’t have to change the ribbons or flowers on the horses at all.