The first four days of Stampede are host to many activities, and as we can all attest, it’s exciting, overwhelming, and hot (if we’re lucky). This first weekend is a rush to be, do, and see, but next year when you’re bordering heat stroke and need a reprieve to digest your Kubi Korn Balls take a seat in the Saddledome for the Heavy Horse Show presented by Halliburton.
This show, organized by the Stampede’ Heavy Horse committee, features all the big boys and girls. Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires compete in more than 100 classes over four days, including entries of cart-drawn single horses, two-horse teams, three-horse unicorn hitches, and four- and six-horse hitches. Draft horses have been shown at Stampede Park every year since 1885 as part of the fair which later became known as the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Now, the international equine community recognizes the Calgary Stampede as being one of the premier draft horse showcases.
If you can only hit one show, make sure it’s the undisputed highlight – Sunday’s World Championship Six Horse Hitch competition. Now in its 12th season accompanied by members of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, these big beauties really do seem to ‘dance’ to the music. 14 ‘turnouts’ (carts drawn by three ‘teams’ of horses) from across North America are judged on conformation, presentation, driving and reinmanship for the World Champion title, and $10,000 prize.
In this particular competition, carts are hitched to six horses, each with their own set of reigns and role in the team. The front two horses (called the leaders) are the smallest, they make the first impression on the judge, set the pace, and are more aggressive. The center team (called the swings) help to make a rounded turn in the corners, and the team closest to the wagon actually steer and pull it.
Each of these giants generates over 3.5 horsepower, and with all 14 rigs in the ring (see photo) there was over 84 tonnes of horse. So who reigned supreme? Last years champions, Jackson Fork Ranch, an all mare Percheron team from Bondurant Wyoming (victory lap displayed in video below) won in a drive-off. Owned by J. Joseph Ricketts and driven by Brian Coleman, this sextet is the only team in the competition to be completely female.