The earth moved on Saturday night when a six-horse team of black Percheron horses won the prestigious Royal Six-Horse Draft Championship at Toronto’s Royal Horse Show. And in a boon for the breed, another Percheron team took out the reserve title.
The horses of Blue Ribbon Days Percherons, owned by the Albert Cleve and Jim Day families and driven by Dean Woodbury, won the $25,000 event, the culmination of five days of six-horse, breed-specific competition at The Royal, with the top three Belgian, Clydesdale, and Percheron hitches invited to contest Saturday night’s championship in front of a sold-out crowd in the Ricoh Coliseum.
The Blue Ribbon Days Percherons hitch of Farmington, Missouri, finished second in Friday’s Percheron Six-Horse Hitch class to qualify for Saturday night’s championship, where they claimed the title.
“It’s a great honour to win at The Royal,” said Dean Woodbury, who first contested The Royal in 1982. “It makes you feel good to win the last show of the year no matter what you’ve done the rest of the time!”
While Woodbury frequently drives a talented team of geldings for Blue Ribbon Days Percherons, it was a team of mares who took the win on Saturday night.
“There was lots of power in that ring tonight and lots of very good hitches all the way through,” said Woodbury. “The horses get driven at least every other day, if not every day. They’re just like an athlete; they have to be trained and toned. You want them to be fit to go into the ring.”
Taking the Royal Six-Horse Draft Reserve Championship title were the Percherons of All Star Farms, a grey team driven by Ross Honsberger of Bellevue, Michigan, and owned by Doyle and Renee Dingman. Honsberger and the All Star Farms hitch won the Percheron Six-Horse Hitch class over Blue Ribbon Days Percherons to qualify for the championship.
Bryce Smith’s Double S Belgians hitch, driven by Kyle Forsyth of Tillanook, Oregon, rounded out the top three in the championship, having qualified by winning the Belgian Six-Horse Hitch class last Wenesday.
In addition to the popular Six-Horse Hitch classes, the 2017 Royal Horse Show also offered Two-Horse, Four-Horse and Unicorn classes for the draft teams.
The Percheron breed originated in France, and were originally bred for use as war horses. Over time, they began to be used for pulling stagecoaches and later for agriculture and hauling heavy goods. In the 1930s, Percherons accounted for 70 percent of the draft horse population in the United States, but their numbers declined substantially after World War II. But the population began to recover and as of 2009, about 2500 horses were registered annually in the United States alone.