Make mine a draft |

Make mine a draft

Ryan Graff
Post Independent Staff
The Colorado Draft Horse Classic includes chuck wagon races, cart competitions, six-horse hitches, and the Regional Shire Show.

John Stewart had the cart before the horse, literally.

Ten years ago Stewart bought an old wagon. He had visions of a nice old-style chuck wagon to pull along. He found and installed everything he thought he needed to have a proper chuck wagon, not an easy task, he said, until finally he had a nice, handmade, chuck wagon.

But Stewart had one problem.

“Well, you need some horse to pull the wagon with,” he said.

“It’s sort of the cart before the horse.”

Stewart and his wife, Judy, were “between saddle horses” at the time, and decided to buy draft horses to pull their new wagon.

And 10 years later, what started with a chuck wagon project has grown into a way of life for the Stewarts, who own a house, some land and four horses, two of whom are drafts, north of Silt.

The chuck wagon sits next to their driveway, a sleigh in the rear of their home, a working wagon near the garage, and inside the garage, a black two-seat, convertible carriage.

“You can see what’s top priority in this house,” Judy said, standing on some boards that will eventually be a driveway to their house. “My truck is outside, and the carriage is in the garage.”

In fact, much of what the Stewarts do on a day to day basis supports their team of Clydesdales, Jeff and Willy.

They hay the horses twice a day, groom them, mend fences, arrange for farriers, and take the horses to shows.

“You spend a lot of hours on the ground that you aren’t driving horses in support of the horses,” John Stewart said.

The horses even dictated where the Stewarts live. Two years ago they moved from Carbondale to Silt. They chose a lot with a gentle slope and with water to irrigate so they could raise hay for their horses.

“You have to want to do it,” John Stewart said. “It’s the love of the horses.”

And the love of the lifestyle.

“It’s really a unique group of people who own draft horses,” he said. “It’s a tight knit group … very friendly … you kind of go out of your way to help people.”

“There is a lot of swapping and borrowing of equipment,” he said.

So much in fact, that the Stewarts hauled a horse-walking machine back to Silt from the Front Range on top of their horse trailer once, barely fitting through tunnels on Interstate 70 and getting strange looks from motorists the whole way.

“I don’t have motorcycles or hang gliders. I have draft horses,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s fun.”

“It’s really nice to be going down the road at three miles an hour,” he said of driving his carriage down the back roads around Silt. “To go out on a day drive somewhere, have a picnic somewhere, that is fun.”

This weekend the Stewarts will have a chance to show off the fruits of their labor at the Colorado Draft Horse Classic, a two-day event at the Garfield County Fairgrounds.

The event includes chuck wagon races, cart competitions, six-horse hitches, and the Regional Shire Show. If the shire show goes well this year, the National Shire Show could come to Rifle next year.

Shires, like Clydesdales and Percherons, are a breed of draft horse, used more today for show and recreation than for plowing fields and winning battles ” for which they were originally bred.

“They were the tractors of the old days,” Judy Stewart said.

The Colorado Draft Horse Classic runs from 1-5 p.m. Friday and 1-6 p.m. Saturday with a wine tasting and auction to follow on Saturday evening.

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