Spending 12 of their 225 travel days per year at the Calgary Stampede, the Express Clydesdale team couldn’t be happier. “We love Calgary! We absolutely love it here,” exclaimed Michael Honhner of the Express Hitch team, from Oklahoma. The Express Clydesdales came to the Stampede this year to participate in the Heavy Horse Show, where they won Best in Show last year, and while they’re here they will also act as the feature hitch during the GMC Rangeland Derby. Their first Stampede award of 2016 came at the Stampede Parade, where the team was awarded Best Heavy Horse 6 and 8 Horse Hitch Commercially owned.

Bob Funk, owner of Express Ranches and CEO and chairman of Express Employment Professionals, holding his team’s Parade entry award
Bob Funk, owner of Express Ranches and CEO and chairman of Express Employment Professionals, holding his team’s Parade entry award

Honhner explained that the black and white Clydesdales are very rare because only 10 per cent of Clydesdales have this uniqe colouring – most Clydesdales are a redish brown colour. This is why they’re so special and rare. There are specific classes of the Heavy Horse Show competitions at Stampede for certain breeds, so it’s a great chance to compare the different Clydesdales.

All horses standing
The Heavy Horse Hitch teams lined up to await the results of the Six Horse Hitch competition

With 118 separate classes (competitions based on types of horse, age of horse, etc.) and celebrating its 130th anniversary, the Heavy Horse Show is a true crown jewel of the Stampede. One of the 118 classes is the crowd favourite year-after-year, the All Breeds World Six Horse Hitch. The six horse hitch competition happened on Sunday, July 10 in the Saddledome and featured live music from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO).

CPO at 6hh
Members of the CPO greeting the crowd.

“It’s such a unique experience,” says Sara Hahn, flute player for the CPO. “We normally play in the concert hall so it’s a whole different culture to play at the Stampede. It’s also a cool window into a whole other world, with the horses and western influence.” Hahn, originally from Winnipeg, MB, spoke of her involvement with the CPO at the Six Horse Hitch as a great welcome to being a part of Calgary’s western identity. 2016 was Hahn’s tenth year participating in the Six Horse Hitch and looks forward to future years.

The CPO played and the judges decided that, for the second year in a row, the Mark Messenger Memorial Hitch from Cheyenne, WY, was 2016’s top performer.

Hitch from behind
The Mark Messenger Memorial Hitch

“We don’t realize how many people it takes to create these teams,” John Third, Calgary Stampede board member, announced at the performance. “…so let’s make sure to thank and congratulate everyone involved in each of the teams and everyone back at the barns.” The event announcer reminded the audience that it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the time the teams spend on the horses, to prepare for this event. Honhner shared that it takes his team about one hour and fifteen minutes to set up his eight-horse hitch – keeping in mind they are professionals who travel with the hitch year-round.

The Heavy Horse Hitch was a beautiful event to watch – the horses were intricately done-up, the music was soothing and the jingles of the wagons brought it all together. The last of the heavy horse classes finish Monday, July 11, and the CPO lineup for the season is currently online.

Members of the Mark Messenger Hitch (included the horse team), CPO and Calgary Stampede with the Six Horse Hitch judges