Draft horse showing
Draft horse showing refers to horse shows exclusively for horses of the draft horse breeds. In North America, though a small number of draft horses are also shown under saddle, the term "Draft horse showing" refers to a specific horse show competition that primarily features driving exhibitors present their horses to be judged in harness. Worldwide, some draft horse shows also feature riding classes.
The driving events at these competitions are somewhat akin to fine harness classes at horse shows for light horses, though the four horse and larger hitch classes also resemble some aspects of combined driving. Draft horse shows are different from draft horse pulling competitions, where teams of horses compete to determine who can pull the most weight.
Exhibitors of these classes must follow a pattern for each class in which they participate. The pattern is the same for every class. The hitches enter the arena one at a time, following one another. They travel to the right, along the rail in a counter-clockwise direction. A hitch is a unit consisting of the exhibitor, his or her horse(s) and vehicle, being a cart or wagon. The judge is observing each hitch from the middle of the ring where he or she is standing. All of the hitches make a few laps in this counter-clockwise direction and then reverse. A lap is completed when a hitch travels the entire way around the arena next to the rail. When the reverse is made, the hitches diagonally cut the ring in half in order to go the opposite direction. This allows the judge to see the other side of each hitch. A couple more laps are made going in this clockwise direction. While making these laps on the rail, the horses are trotting and usually asked to walk for a few steps only once during the entire class. Next, all of the hitches line up, coming to a complete stop in the middle of the ring, all facing the same direction. The judge then looks at each hitch individually and has them back up. This requires the driver of each hitch to direct his or her horse(s) to back either the cart or wagon a few feet, stop, and then step forward to the original position. Finally, the judge places all of the hitches in the order of his or her preference.
Types of classes
United States and Canada
The main classes in a show exclusively for draft horses are limited to driving competition, and generally include the following:
- Ladies Cart -- One horse driven in a cart by a woman
- Men’s Cart -- One horse driven in a cart by a man
- Team -- Two horses hitched side by side on a show wagon, driven by a man or woman
- Unicorn -- Three horses hitched as a team with one horse in front of the team, driven by a man or woman
- Four -- Four horses hitched as two teams, one pair in front of the other, driven by a man or woman
- Six  -- Six horses hitched as three teams, one in front of another, driven by a man or woman
- Eight -- Eight horses hitched as four teams, one in front of another, driven by a man or woman
In the United States and Canada, the breeds of draft horses shown, include:
Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales tend to be the dominant breeds seen at North American draft horse shows. The cost of a draft horse depends on the level of competition at which an exhibitor would like to compete. If an exhibitor would like to compete at the highest level, receiving first place honors at the toughest shows, a great horse could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. A draft horse shown as a hobby and competing only at local or county fairs would start at approximately $1,000.
A harness exhibitor uses appropriate equipment for driving, beginning with a truck and trailer to haul the draft horses to the show. A show harness, a show wagon, and a show cart must be purchased as well. These three items are only used in the arena while a hitch is performing. Another set of work harness and a practice wagon is used at home for training. Along with the costly equipment, decorations that are put up at the draft horse shows and miscellaneous tack items must also be obtained.
A hitch is judged the moment it enters the arena. Usually, there is only one judge for an entire horse show. The hitches are judged on a variety of aspects including physical conditioning, conformation, height, hoof size, cleanliness and quality of turnout, movement of the horses, quality of action, manners and how well the horses work together as a team and as a hitch as a whole.
There is no standard or uniform set of rules. All judges have their own opinion on what they like, putting more emphasis on certain aspects than others do. This is what makes draft horse showing so unique; the outcome of a show can never be predicted.
The major agricultural shows in Australia hold led (conformation), trade and turnout classes for draft horses. At field days draft horses are also shown in long reining, ridden, log snigging, ploughing, pulling, novelty events, agricultural and other implements events, too.
The draft breeds exhibited in Australia are:
Preparation for a show
Prior to a draft horse show, exhibitors perform a variety of tasks to make their draft horses look their best. Draft horses usually get a bath to remove all of the dirt from their coats. Right before a performance, they often are vacuumed to remove any dirt that has accumulated on their coats since their bath. Next, their hooves are polished, usually with black polish. One exception are, Clydesdales which commonly have white hooves, linked to the white leg markings preferable for their breed. Therefore, their hoof color is not changed. After being bathed Clydesdales' legs are dried using sawdust and baby powder. Depending on breed, the mane is braided or rolled and tails are tied up. Finally, the draft horses are harnessed and hooked together on a wagon or cart, or saddled, depending on the type of class in which they are competing.
- ↑ Woolbrook Heavy Horse Workout Program, Australian Draught Horse Stud Book Society Inc., October 2008
- Draft Horse Journal, http://www.drafthorsejournal.net/index.html
- North American Classic Series, http://www.naclassicseries.com/calendar.html