What’s my favourite event at the Royal Horse Show in Toronto? Dressage? Show jumping? Nope. The class I like the best is the six horse hitch. This is where the heavies get to strut their stuff. This year I saw the Percheron Six Horse Hitch.
One of the great advantages of the Royal Horse Show is you can go into the Horse Palace and see the horses. I wanted to get some more information about the Percherons and I was lucky to be introduced to Taylor of Glencal Percherons. I got to their area of the stabling and the massive (averaging 2,250 lbs. weight) black horses were lined up being prepared for their competition. Taylor was standing on a step ladder holding the halter of one of the horses, to steady him, and another young woman was seated astride the horse braiding in the colored cloth ribbons into the horse’s mane. These ribbons are braided down the length of the mane and then decorative elements can be inserted into the braiding. I stood in between two of the horses to speak to Taylor. There was not a lot of space in between these black giants, and even as a horse person, I was aware that I was just a snippet of a human, small and insignificant. I had some questions for Taylor.
Q. How many horses do you need to bring to the show if you are competing in the six horse hitch?(I asked this as I knew it would be more than six to ensure they would have six in case one horse was lame or not well. )
A. We bring seven horses. We also compete in the eight horse hitch classes but they are not offered here at the Royal . For that we would bring nine horses. We have a horse transport that can take nine horses.
Q. How do you arrange the horses in the hitch?
A. We put the two strongest horses nearest to the wagon. They do most of the pulling so they need to be stronger. The two lead horses are the ones with the fanciest movement.
Q. Is there a temperament difference between breeds of heavy horse? Are the Clydesdales and Percherons more or less the same?
A. The Clydes are quieter. The Percherons are the most excitable of the draft horses.
At this point, there was a man on my left who was starting to get the harness on the horse,Taylor and the young woman were almost finished with the ribbon braiding on the horse on my right. It was clear to me that both horses knew they were getting ready for the show ring. They were anxious to get going. Time for me to let everyone get on with their work!
Once the teams are hitched up they come to the collecting ring and wait to go into the arena
Here last minute adjustments and polishing up can be done. Then they wait until the horses from the previous class come out. On this evening it was Roadster Ponies!
Then the big horses are driven into the arena.
They circle the arena and the judge watches : the movement of the horses. their presentation,the wagons. You can see in these photos the coordination of the braiding colors and the harness and the wagons.
The harness is gleaming and polished. The horses are groomed to perfection and their hooves are mirror glossy. The braiding work matches the harness details and the wagon.
Once the judge has seen the horses and wagons go around in both directions , the Ring Master calls them into the center to line up.
The judge then walks around and between the horses and wagons, taking a close look . Then…..the winner is announced and the presenters place a ribbon on one of the lead horses.
Then the others can also come forward, on the Ring Masters order, to receive their ribbons. The Ring Master is in the top hat, at the bottom right, of this photo.
The horses and wagons will all leave the arena and the winner will go round one more time for a victory round. What a pleasure it is to see these magnificent horses so beautifully presented.