Gentle giants in Garfield County
RIFLE, Colorado When you think of draft horses, enthusiast Sharon McLin knows you probably imagine those Budweiser beasts. You get this grand image of four or six or even eight animals with ornate hitches, perhaps with braided manes and tails. Its a beautiful thought, she admits, but this years Draft Horse Classic will be a much more informal affair.Instead of a full weekend, its a one-day farm show and she thinks it will be all the more enjoyable for it.In her words, Theyre more fun for exhibitors, frankly, I think, and more fun for the audience.The difference is simple. Performance class is all about the pomp and circumstance of horses with large hitches, grace and aesthetics taking a front seat (and usually taking up one day of the competition). Farm class deals with singles and pairs, and their ability and strength is what matters. On Saturday at the fairgrounds, theyll be going around obstacle courses, pulling carts and being ridden bareback. The animals wont be gussied up, either. In short, theyll be letting their manes down.Its that sense of friendly competition, explained McLin, whos helping organize this years event.Of course, shes a little sad to be giving up the more formal competition, but the user friendliness of the day makes up for it. After all, thats what these huge horses are all about. Though most weigh just a little shy of a ton, theyre easier to break than their lighter counterparts, stressed McLin, whos worked with them for 30 years. They might not be as portable as most pets, but, to her, theyre equally personable.Its just as possible when youre having a bad day to go out and bury your head in a horses shoulder than it is to talk to a dog and cat, she said.She doesnt call them gentle giants for nothing, you know.That goes for Nila Parrington as well. A draft fan for just as long, she organized this event for years. Her esteem for these big guys started when she and her husband ran a few dude ranches and ski lodges up in the northern part of the state. Its easy to love these horses, she explained. Even though theyre so many times your size, theyd never dream of hurting you. Throughout the years, she and her family have gone to competitions and parades and draft get-togethers all over the state, and it always feels friendly and welcoming. Thats how she imagines this weekend playing out. The horses, and their owners, too, simply seem to be of a gentler nature.
We really just get out there and compete with all our friends, she said.And Dennis Holzrichter seemed as though he couldnt wait.Its great. I love it. Its the highlight of my year, he said, excitedly. Ive been to them all.Hes a carriage operator on Denvers 16th Street Mall, and his Clydesdales have been his livelihood for the last 20 years. He described the atmosphere of the show, one where owners arent shy about talking about their animals or answering questions. Its a very open group, he said.He then went into a bit of his own history, about how he first saw the Budweiser horses at an opening of a grocery in some tiny town in Kansas. He was just 8 then, and he was awestruck. Their size and presence and beauty got to him, and that never really left him. He described what its like to ride one of those big lugs (Like straddling the kitchen table) and talked about the feeling of family and camaraderie between draft horse people. He offered a personal introduction to his animals and called them docile, big puppy dogs, and sweat hearts. Like other aficionados, he sounded completely, happily immersed into the draft horse world.We really love our animals, he said, and we love to talk about them.No kidding.
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