The World Champion Six Horse Hitch features magnificent heavy horses performing to the music of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s something truly special. And while I can appreciate the animals, the music and the performance, there’s so much I don’t know about the event. I asked Heavy Horse committee Courtney Stephenson to tell me more.

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What are the judges looking for in the arena at the various parts of the performance?

The judges are looking for a hitch that works together in unison.  He also is looking for horses that are athletic and moving well, which means lifting their knees up high and straight  and hocks that are moving straight like a pair of scissors. The horses should be clean and well presented with clean harness and decorated with a rolled mane (4 strand braid) with mane flowers arranged straight thru the mane and tails tied in a clean bun.  The teamster should be engaged with the horses and in control of his hitch.

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What exactly are the various things they need to do?

The horses move at a trot and are marked down if they break, which is just a term for loping.  They are asked to walk, drive across the diagonal of the ring,  line up and back up their hitch.  All needs to be done with ease and together as one unit.

What are the roles of the two people in the carriage? 

The teamster is the one who is in control of the hitch and makes the commands to the horses. You can see a good hitch horse has horses who are constantly moving their ears back and forth so they can listen to the teamster. The person who accompanies the teamster is there for safety in case something gets out of hand, the horses even though gentle in nature are large animals and we need to keep their safety in mind. They are also there to stand at the horses head when the hitch is stopped.

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How much horse power do the heavy horses each have?

A 1 tonne draft horse can produce 3.5 live horse power.

What kinds of horses exactly are in the show?

Belgians, Percheron’s, Clydesdales and Shires.

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What is the temperament of these horses? Any other special insider knowledge/facts about the horses?

Heavy horses are very gentle and sensible in nature.  The Heavy Horses have been shown on the Stampede grounds for 128 year when it was nothing more than a small agricultural society. Two of the Big Four, Patrick Burns and George Lane were heavy horse breeders.

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Any other interesting facts?

The heavy horses wear scotch bottom horse shoes, which is style of shoe. They weigh 3.5 lbs each.