Draft Horses

I have a collection of diaries written by a New York state farm woman from the turn of the last century. She had a hard life. Her family had one horse, that both pulled the plow and that took them to church on Sunday. The animal was slow and old and often lame. The woman loved that horse.

women on draft horses

Anonymous photograph circa 1900.

As I said, she had a very hard life. While her neighbors modernized their farms, used tractors in the fields and bought cars to go to town, she could not. She was too poor, her husband was ill. She loved that horse and she needed him too.

By the 1940s draft horses almost disappeared. Today many breeds are endangered. But some people loved them. Loved them enough to keep them going, despite the fact that they are no longer necessary on farms or to take the family to church. Hundreds of these big horses will be at the World Percheron Congress this week. Every few years this show is held at a different arena, and not always in the USA. It’s also been staged in Canada, France and England. This year the World Percheron Congress is not only on the East Coast, but it is less then two hours from my house. I’ll be there. I’ll bring my camera. (You might be able to watch, too. It’s live streaming here.)


  1. My Grand Uncle (actually, I think he was a cousin, but we called him Uncle) kept at least one Clydesdale on his farm until he was way too old to work it anymore (late 1970’s). He liked getting behind these big horses a couple of times a year to do things the ‘old’ way. And they could be ridden. I got stepped on by a horse for the first time at his place. Luckily, we were in a seriously muddy area outside so nothing got broken before I got him off my foot! They were stubborn but gentle giants.

  2. I’m currently reading “The New Horse Powered Farm” and I’m amazed by how much new (and still useable old) horse equipment is out there.

    And I like the thought of working draft horses. (Except the pulling contests give me a twinge. I’ve heard of fractured pelvises from the massive strain. Sigh.)

  3. My father’s cousins breed Percherons as do another family from my home village, so they are a familiar sight for me. I particularly love how the colour changes from the sooty dark grey/black foals through all shades of greys to an almost pure white of the old mature mares and stalions. And the ribbon adornments used to decorate their manes and harness when they go to shows are works of art!

    • I wonder whether the show Percherons in England are also subjected to the weighted, outgrown hooves. I do love the decorations and braiding of the manes, though! So cheerful.

  4. Terry, hold tight to those diaries, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how valuable they are in having a gimpse in to the realities of those years. I am fortunate that my maternal grandmother kept a daily diary for 60 years of her life.
    Those entries are more valuable to me everyday. Personally my grandmothers diaries are priceless but the value of having a window to the daily life of years past is wonderful!

    • I found mine at a flea market – the seller was going to sell them (40!) individually. Luckily, I was there early and snapped them all up and am keeping them together. You are so fortunate to have a family connection to the ones that you have.