Draft horses have made a comeback in rural U.S.


More than 260 Percheron and Belgian draft horses changed owners at the 44th Eastern States Draft Horse Sale Feb. 3. Buyers and sellers from at least a dozen states and several Canadian provinces consigned or bought horses at the three-day event.
It is estimated more than 192,000 horses of all breeds are kept in Ohio. That is about 42,000 more than in Kentucky. It’s a $900 million industry involving a quarter of a million people and it has a $2.8 billion impact on the economy
Since the USDA stopped keeping census figures on the draft horse and mule populations back in the 1960s, it’s difficult to say just how many of those 192,000 Ohio horses are draft horses. With the largest Amish community in the world and numerous draft horse clubs outside of the Amish community, Ohio certainly has a good share of the world’s draft horses, and some of the finest.
Sent away. After World War II when farm tractor production resumed, draft horses were sent to Europe by the shipload to feed a starving continent. I was told I should not get attached to the pair I chased around a field because they would be as extinct as dinosaurs by the time I grew up.
It seemed like it was going to happen, but by the mid-1950s the rural population realized its mistake – that something had gone out of their lives – and the exodus of the draft horse stopped.
By the late 1950s their numbers were on the increase and in 1962 the demand for good draft horses was strong enough to support the first Eastern States Draft Horse Sale.
Today there are also bi-annual draft sales in Mount Hope, Ohio, and Dover, Ohio, and draft horses can be bought and sold at numerous other horse sales throughout the year.
The draft horses we saw at the sale Feb. 3 were not the same short legged, debodied horses our grandfathers bred and raised. Today, the Percheron and Belgian draft horse is a more athletic, longer legged, longer necked horse with a slimmer body. They are still large horses – taller than ever – can still earn their keep in the field and woods, are faster, and they are more versatile.
Marketable. A good moving, high stepping hitch horse can bring high prices. The carriage and recreational horse market wants large, strong horses that step out and move with class. And many large people who like to ride, but are too much of a load for a light horse, find the calm but powerful draft horse built to order.
With a half dozen popular breeds of draft horses, at least another half dozen of less common breeds and several breeds of draft ponies, there is a little something out there for every need, taste and pocketbook.
Yes, there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a person. The draft horse is back, bigger than ever, and it is here to stay.

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