Clearly, these gals have plenty of giddy-up.
During the 2010 Calgary Stampede Heavy Horse Show, Alberta’s Brian Coleman captured his third career crown at the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition – directing a snappy sextet of Percherons from the Jackson Fork Ranch outfit of Bondurant, Wyo.
But the story of last year’s victory is as much about the horsepower as it is the reinsman. Because, for the first time in event history, the Stampede’s Six Horse Hitch competition was won by a hitch of mares.
“I’ve worked other mare groups in the past, and it does have its unique challenges,” says Coleman, of Didsbury, Alta., who’d driven the Strawberry Lane Percherons hitch of Oconomowoc, Wisc., to victory at the 2002 and 2004 Stampede. “You don’t have some of the consistencies that you expect out of geldings. I mean, the geldings are pretty much the same every day, where mares can have the odd issue . . . they don’t work as well when they’re in heat, for example.
“But actually, if you have a mare that works well for you, you’ve got a horse that can reach an extra competitive level that geldings can’t,” adds Coleman, the full-time driver and trainer for the Jackson Fork unit. “Geldings are a little more military-like; they’ll go out and do their thing with a little less emotion. But mares seem to have a little more expression, a little more attitude, that geldings simply don’t.”
The Percheron mares from the Cowboy State will be back to defend their title as the Stampede’s World Championship Six Horse Hitch Competition – the undisputed highlight of the Heavy Horse Show, presented by Halliburton – ramps up the pomp and ceremony this weekend in the Scotiabank Saddledome, with a 12th consecutive season of live musical accompaniment by members of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Sixteen rigs from across North America, including the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian prairies, the U.S. Midwest, and Quebec, will duke it out for the Stampede title and a shot at the $10,000 winner’s cheque. The Six Horse Hitch final begins at 12 p.m. on Sunday, July 10 at the Saddledome. A panel of three judges will rate Sunday’s finalists for conformation, presentation, driving and reinsmanship.
“This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Heavy Horse Show in Calgary, and that’s 125 consecutive years, too. It dates all the way back to the old Calgary and District Agricultural Society fair (in 1886). And that heritage is certainly one of the reasons the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show has such a great following,” notes Lorne Hammer, vice-chair of the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show committee. “We also get such a good turnout because there is such a huge amount of enthusiasm in Western Canada for the heavy horses. The four Western Canadian provinces provide the mainstay of our entries. Every one of those hitches, or teams, or even the folks who’ll bring one horse for a halter class, are all really enthusiastic about maintaining heavy horses in the West.”
As has been the case since 2000, horses in cart and hitch will be stepping in time to specially selected music, courtesy of members of the CPO.
World-class horses and musicians will perform together at the Saddledome throughout the event, with feature performances on Friday, July 8 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, July 9 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., as well as Sunday’s noon Six Horse Hitch finale. Those four performances will feature a full 38-member orchestra of CPO musicians, led by the CPO’s resident conductor Melanie Leonard, playing a selection of light classics. The 12 p.m. performance on Friday will be accompanied by a quintet of musicians from Foothills Brass, who’ll lend the proceedings a rock-and-roll flavor.
“Our musicians are very excited to perform at the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show for our 12th year,” says Leonard. “It is such a treat for us to experience the majesty and grace of these gentle giants as they step in time to the music that we play. It is quite magical, and something we can’t ever experience in the concert hall!”
After making its North American debut in the four-horse hitch class in 2009, the Jackson Fork outfit enjoyed a banner 2010 season as a unit of six – winning the Mare Six division at the Scott County Fair in Jordan, Minn., placing third in Six Horse Hitch at nationals in Indianapolis, claiming two more Mare Six classes at the Iowa and Minnesota state fairs, and following it up with a runner-up finish in the Classic Six-Horse Hitch class at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January.
“For a first year with a six, it was an awesome season. I hope we can come somewhere close to doing something like that again this year,” says Coleman. “And I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of showing at Calgary. If I do, it’s time to quit. The Stampede is one of those shows with that special atmosphere . . . the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you head out into the ring.”
The Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show, presented by Halliburton, will feature all the big boys and girls of the equine world in the Saddledome and the Big Top. Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires will compete in more than 100 classes over four days, starting on Friday and wrapping up on Monday, July 11, with breed Supreme Champions and the overall best in show scheduled to be crowned at 1 p.m. Monday in the Saddledome. Classes for the four breeds include entries of cart-drawn single horses, two-horse teams, three-horse unicorn hitches, and four- and six-horse hitches.
The Stampede will be webcasting all events being held in the Saddledome and the Big Top this year. Visit http://ag.calgarystampede.com/saddledome-ustream-2011 for live streaming of Saddledome action, and http://ag.calgarystampede.com/big-top-ustream-2011 for events under the Big Top.