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Belgian Horses

Sunday, October 17, 2010


 Everybody likes to trace their lineage way back to a king, oh, let's say Charlemagne. I couldn't do that if you held a gun to my head, wouldn't know where to start. Some Scots-Irish married some Germans, came to southern West Virginia, a bunch of them went to Iowa, and there you have it. Simplified Zick genealogy.  Fans of the Belgian draft horse say they, and all draft breeds, sprang from the "great horse" of medieval times, made heavy to carry knights in full armor into battle. And they doubtless turned some serious soil when there wasn't a battle to charge into.

Gentle giants that can exceed six feet at the withers and weigh more than a ton, Belgians are more popular in the U.S. than all other draft breeds combined.  They can pull prodigious weights; a team of Belgians whose combined weight was 4,200 pounds pulled 17,000 pounds for 7.2 feet. Yikes.



 Pulling an antique cultivator (?) and a man is nothing to these enormous animals. The antique equipment looks so frail and spidery; I look at the potential for getting it all stomped on and twisted and it scares me. But Belgians are steady animals, not the stomping kind.




 Coming about...


 Another team, these with natural, not docked, tails. I've got to guess that the suspension on this old machinery makes for a bone-rattling ride. We are so spoiled with our hydraulic shocks and air-conditioned tractor cabs, sitting high above the dust. Imagine how sore you'd be after a day of riding this.


I knew a Belgian mare named Victoria when I was a college student living in the wilds outside the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. Her owner, an opera singer and woodswoman, used Victoria to haul the wood with which she heated her cottage in the winter. Yes, it was romantic as it sounds, drowning in climbing roses and backed by sugar maples. Susan used to let me ride Victoria into the town square of Petersham, where I would tie her and go get an ice cream cone at the general store.

When I turned Victoria  for home, she'd finally break into a canter in a slow-motion, Belgiany kind of way. It was like riding an overstuffed sofa, absolutely glorious and exhilarating, to have the ground shaking beneath her great hooves and me bareback astride. I loved that horse.


And so it was pure pleasure to watch this gentleman ready his team (two experienced horses with wide blazes, and a young mare on the left) for the exhibition.




Tucking the forelocks.



Despite the blinders, they keep an ear cocked back to keep track of where he is so they won't step on him.



We thanked him, and apologized for being such paparazzi. He didn't mind. He thinks they're beautiful, too.


Belgians snoozing, scratching



Pulling, whoaing


Champing their bits, waiting for the next request.




8 comments:

Thanks for so beautifully exploring one of my secret passions. I don't ride, but I adore draft horses. I find them a lot easier to understand and communicate with than wild-eyed hot bloods, not to mention more lovely. A wonderful half-draft pinto named Paul is the kindest horse I've ever met.

My Mom (now 96) talks of driving 12 percherons (6 and 6) on a one way disc. Only 6 for plowing. My Dad say not many men could back up a team like Mom could. Her Dad loved his horses and was very good to them. They farmed in southern Alberta.

What a beautiful tribute to such a wonderful huge-hearted animal.

I love the Clydesdale but I did ride a Belgian on the beach near Big Sur, California. The Belgian was a gentle giant who was very polite with a buckaroo on it's back!

I can't help but feel a tingle at the thought of fulfilling what is pretty much every little kid's dream--riding a gentle giant of a horse into town to buy an ice cream. It's so reassuring to know that that's a real world possibility!

I'm not surprised to hear that Belgians are so popular--those lovely flaxen manes, those mealy mouths and round bellies. There was a beautiful shaggy Belgian mare named Bagel at the first stable where I took lessons; you're right, it was exactly like riding a gently heaving couch.

At the same stables there lived a Belgian (or perhaps a Belgian cross) named Samson, who was as gentle as could be....but heaven help you if he saw you eating a slice of watermelon. Nothing could stand in his way; he'd bust through locked gates in pursuit of his favorite fruit. Weird horse. Everyone loved him.

When my grandparents were building their lakeside log cabin in 1948 (where the family still vacations), they hired a man with a draft team to bring the logs down from the hillside where they'd cut them down. My mother was about 5 and totally intoxicated by horses and all her life she remembered that team. The man showed them the way once and then stayed on the hillside to cut logs. The team would walk down to the site by themselves, and mom said it was fascinating to watch them when the logs got hung up on brush. They would stop, back up, move to the left or right to free the drag. She got to ride on them a few times and was giddy with joy. She remembered that week her whole life.

We also went to a horse pull in Maine during Patten Pioneer Days, at the Lumberman's Museum. The bond between team and man was amazing.

Posted by holly-the-person October 17, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Beautiful horses!

But Zickefoose genealogy is never simple. Too damn many of 'em! Not to mention all the offshoots with other names! :-D

Kathy H.

Yikes! An image to take to dreamland tonight! Zick in a slow-motion canter with a butter-brickle cone held aloft in the sword hand!

And it is interesting not only how many people trace themselves back to royalty, but specifically to Charlemagne. I'm real fuzzy on my history and don't know much else about him, but he must have been a busy boy.

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