Big Thunder – Estes Park Trail-Gazette
Catherine and I attended “BIG THUNDER” at the Ranch in Loveland. We love watching these great workhorses. My favorites are the Belgian horses. Probably because I’ve driven Belgian teams feeding cattle to the Dogie Ranch, Luppold Ranch, Fred Buckinghams and a few times to the Higgins Hereford Ranch. While working at Aspen Lodge we had Luke and Tony, both Belgians. There were two or three Belgian problems at Big Thunder.
Percheron horses, all black, were the most popular team. There are gray Percherons. Percheron stallions were often used to breed the smaller mustangs that ran in the wild. This increased the size of the mustang, making them somewhat better for handling livestock. The Percheron teams seemed to dominate the competitions.
The Clydesdales were represented. One of these teams was voted the crowd favourite. They are well known as the horses that pull the Budweiser wagons. Their bay color with white dots, especially the white feathered legs, is so recognizable. While the bay color of Budweiser fame is the predominant color, they are also found in brown, gray and black, all with white dots. They also had four teams in the Unicorn competition (a pair behind a single horse).
Big Thunder presented the horses as a single horse on a carriage or as a team of two. Later in 2 pairs; two by two (four up) or three pairs; two by two, (six up). There were a few contests specifically for female drivers. Two of the large teams were driven exclusively by women, one of them being a teenager.
Catherine beat me to choose the winners because two of her choices were the same as the judges. One of the ladies nearby chose her teams by the hat the lady was wearing or was sitting next to the driver. She was also entitled to a couple.
Driving competitions are tough and the horses are in good shape. Competitions often last several days, they compete frequently and train between competitions. They earn their food, that’s for sure.
The horses I know best are those that work on farms and ranches. They pull the necessary material, are easy to maintain, are necessarily soft and work hot or cold. They work on the farm or in the local parade with little trouble.
We had a team at the Dogie that had been the champion draw team. These horses pull extremely heavy loads over short distances and they go fast and strong. It took us several weeks before they were calm enough to be used for feeding cattle or sheep. Before they calmed down, there were two of us driving them. Jim drove, I fed. From time to time he would yell, “Come up here and take a line.” I made my way forward, caught a line and we finally slowed them down enough to allow me to feed again.
I have been fortunate enough to have driven a single horse, two horse, three horse (three abreast) four and six hitch unit. I don’t know what I liked more, riding or driving horses.