An occasion I have always tried to attend takes place in my former prairie hometown of Brandon-the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair. My favourite events are indisputably the heavy horse hitches . It sends shivers down my spine to hear the loudspeaker announce the imminent arrival of the six horse hitch. The large crowd suddenly hushes and then the tinkle of harness bells precedes the thunder of hooves as teams of heavy horses pound into the arena, harnesses shimmering, manes and tails braided and beribboned, hooves polished and silver bells and harness trim flashing in the night lights. Team after team circle the arena crossing and reversing before lining up from end to end of the arena to stand for the judging.
Now these are the elite-the purebred Clydesdales, Percherons and Belgians. But under the spit and polish they are the followers of our mixed breed horses of decades ago-the Bonnies, Beauties, Princes and Stars. They are the heroes of the quarter section mixed farms, our friends and co-workers. They helped us harvest grain, cut and collect hay and log for firewood. They took us to town on Saturday and to church on Sunday. Sometimes they even took us to school. They pulled sleighs and cutters and covered vans in the winter and buggies and wagons in the summer. We couldn't have made it without them.
Gradually the draft horse along with the threshing machines, mowers and hayracks were replaced by swathers, balers and combines. Farms became larger and so did the horsepower required to operate them.
Now they have disappeared from the family farm, left only in their incarnation as show horses to acknowledge their importance in our history.
Sometimes even now a country drive will take me past an old abandoned farmyard with a dilapidated barn not quite dead from decay. If I close my eyes I can picture the stalls with the names painted above on wooden slabs, maybe Molly and Doll, hear the crunch of teeth on fresh hay and pat a bay flank raising that beautiful dusty, musty unmistakeable smell of horse.