These Percherons are the “hobby horses” of the Hord Family, of Greenwich. Their grandmother, Clara Louise Roorback-Smith, began showing the breed 79 years ago with the assistance of her daughter, Martha Roorback-Hord. Lisa, Diane, Dean and wife Lynn Hord, all third-generation showmen, with Dean and Lynn’s daughter Abby, continue the tradition into the fourth generation.
Aside from King, a dapple grey, whose dapples often are compared to stars by children, the rest of the team is black. Both color Percherons originated in the French province of Perche, just south of Paris.
“The dappled are hard to match in pairs,” Lisa Hord said. “And, no, they are not Appaloosas, as many people ask.”
These huge animals were bred as war horses to carry soldiers wearing heavy metal armor during hundreds of years of European wars. Heavily muscled Percherons are also perfectly adaptable for harnessing to draw coaches, heavy wagons, plows and all other types of machinery that we now call old fashioned. Then came gas-powered engines and soon teams of horses were traded in for tractors that overshadowed horse power.
Draft horses almost went the way of the dodo bird, but their beauty and strength have been rescued as competitive pulling contests and showmanship at county fairs continue to be popular attractions. Different purebred lines are registered and treasured around the world.
As giants among horses, Percherons can weigh 1,700 to 2,000 pounds, stand as tall as 19 hands, with feet 10 to 12 inches in diameter. A whole set of show harnesses can weigh about 75 to 80 pounds.
Taking care of hooves
To be ready for upcoming shows in several county fairs, the Hord horses have just returned from the Amish blacksmith who did a complete “pedicure” for each of them. That’s a total of 28 hooves.
Each hoof is trimmed to fit its individual shoe, which is then “filed on the edges and across the bottom to even it up,” Hord said. The blacksmith “can eyeball the shoe, take it to the anvil, hit it with the hammer to size it.”
Explosion, Hord's youngest horse, got new shoes — her first time to be shod. The older ones usually have shoes refitted, the same ones being reused several years at shows when they will be walking on pavement. Working in the fields or grazing they are left unshod.
Abby Hord mentioned how important taking care of hooves is.
“An abscess of the hoof can be caused by a stone caught in the soft part, or frog, and is hard to heal if not caught in time. Soaking in Epsom salts may help. It can mean as much as a month at an equine hospital to heal,” she said. That can be seriously expensive.
Proper feeding and care
Careful feeding for the horse’s size, age and amount of work it does is requisite.
“Roughage is most important to keep the acid in their stomachs under control. Grain is a supplement. Colic caused by changing type of grain or hay, or brought on by overwork can cause death. It's an emergency if the bowels get twisted; they can die,” both Abby and Lisa emphasized.
Particular watchfulness is necessary during fairs when animals are out of their regular environment.
“Fair feed is different, because the horses are bored looking at a wall for seven days, not getting much exercise. So they get hay four times a day to keep them occupied; it's a distraction,” said Lisa Hord, who has been showing at fairs for years.
Raising any livestock is time-consuming, especially when stalls have to be cleaned daily. The Hords plan on at least an hour-and-a-half morning and night to feed, clean stalls and measure feed for next time, and then maybe do some grooming.
Dean Hord learned how to harness a draft horse, preparing it for show, with his father, including all the careful adjustments necessary.
“It takes about one to one-and-a-half hours to harness a team for the wagon. I have help,” he said.
Then Hord and his helpers double check that the harnesses are correct, that the collar is not going to rub or put pressure on the wrong spot, that lines are correctly fastened and much more. That is only a two-horse team, not like the Clydesdales hitched to the Budweiser wagon.
And accidents happen.
Once a routine hitch at the Ashland County Fair turned into a life-threatening collision for Hord. He recalled how someone else’s horse was spooked and came running down the alley straight at Hord, who was standing beside his harnessed horse. He said he tried to push his horse sideways to miss the runaway.
Before Hord could jump away, he was knocked down by the runaway, landing under it. Hord said he got a concussion and deep gashes from a hoof on his left forearm. He had stitches for that and his right elbow. His scar remains in the shape of a horse shoe with the nail marks. Of course he's still working horses and wants to try plowing with one soon.
Abby Hord owns Annie, Vegas and Patsy. She grew up handling family horses.
“I got heavy into horses after college when I had a job to support having horses. I bought my own show wagon; it’s recently restored. It’s a late 1800s delivery wagon,” she said.
Hord was the 2008 Ohio Percheron Breeders Association Queen and 2014 World Percheron Congress Queen.
At the fair this year, you may be able to enjoy a ride in a wagon behind the high stepping team of Percherons in highly polished harness, and you even may be riding with the queen.