Heavy horses harnessed by Northern Colorado Draft Horse Association

What started in the 1970s as a small group of Larimer, Weld and Boulder county heavy-horse enthusiasts — including farmers Homer Loban, Dennis Speicher and Lawrence Stark — meeting at a Berthoud coffee shop has blossomed into the 45-member Northern Colorado Draft Horse Association. The NCDHA promotes the historical significance of large breeds — from Percherons to Shires to Belgians — and their important contribution to Colorado agriculture.

Audrey Stockton is the current show coordinator for the organization. She and husband Jerry own Big Little Shires in LaPorte. Although they’ve both owned horses throughout their lives, they started the Shire venture in 1981 with “big ideas, but little money” hence the name, said Stockton. Their present operation breeds, shows and works Shires in harness.

Stockton said the NCDHA strives to educate the public about our country’s connection to heavy horses and old farming techniques. Youngsters are encouraged to pursue careers or hobbies involving the large equines. Activities like its Draft Horse Show at the Larimer County Fair can inspire the next generation of owners and drivers by fanning flames of interest in youth, she said. Apparently, that approach worked well with her own child.

“My husband quit showing when our 10-year-old daughter beat him with his own horse,” Stockton admitted with a laugh. And, she added, “ours isn’t the only family in which that’s happened.”

The show also demonstrates the adaptability of well-trained drafts. A couple years ago, Stockton said, a judge asked if he could drive the Stockton six-horse hitch. By so doing, he displayed not only his skills with an unfamiliar set of horses, but also their easy compliance to new hands on the lines.

The show combines subjective with objective classes (halter vs. timed events), judged on differing criteria. Spectators can test their own judging skills from comfortable seating in the Budweiser Events Center at The Ranch in Loveland, home of the Larimer County Fair. But that late-summer event isn’t the only way the NCDHA displays draft horse talents.

October Open House
The group’s annual October Open House grew out of its mission statement to promote the use of heavy horses. As in past years, Mountain View Stables on the southeast I-25 Frontage Road just south of Prospect Road in Fort Collins, will host the 2012 event. Everyone is welcome, regardless of horse experience or ownership status.

Visitors can participate in a variety of hands-on activities during the half-day event, such as harnessing a horse, grooming, learning how to purchase equipment and harness, visiting with a mare and foal. There will be free wagon rides, Q&A opportunities with draft horse owners, information about where to take lessons, horses for sale, and carriage or wagon rentals. The Collegiate Horseman’s Association fundraising committee will have food for sale to help keep participants fueled, and pasture parking is ample at this free public education event.

Membership in the NCDHA, with or without horses, offers more fun activities. In the annual Prairie Drive, heavy horse teams pulling wagons and saddle horses of all sizes go “windmill to windmill” across wide expanses near Briggsdale. Spotting soaring eagles is a bonus.

Other activities have included demonstration spring plowing or manure spreading, a fall obstacle course challenge, summer shows and club support at county fairs across the state.

Stockton said business meetings are intentionally kept short. Unlike in some clubs, no one is appointed to an office unless present at the election and agreeable to serve in said position.

She also addressed the current weak economy’s effects on the equine scene. Hay prices have escalated dramatically along with the cost of fuel to produce and haul it, and horse prices still fluctuate according to region, age, breeding and training levels. But, Stockton reported responsible heavy horse breeders and owners have cut back on foal production.

Nevertheless, interest in heavy horses remains strong. If yours is, visit an upcoming NCDHA event, access more information at www.coloradodrafthorseassn.org and link to the Northern Colorado club, or call Stockton at 970-493-6837.

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