Draft breeds are often overlooked and frequently end up in challenging situations, but one rescue is coming to the aid of these gentle giants.
Lisa Gordon grew up with horses, but wasn’t fully aware of what really happens to those sent to certain auctions, since the ones she attended as a child were high dollar sales. Shortly after moving to Ohio in 2002, she attended the Sugarcreek Livestock auction – there she quickly learned what and who kill buyers were. “Our first save was a ten-year-old Belgian mare named Babe,” says Lisa. “I decided to spend time with her, re-home her and use her funds to go save another one or two. And that’s where it all started.” The same year, Frog Pond Farm Draft Rescue (frogpondfarmdrafts.com) was founded.
The majority of the horses at Frog Pond are older retirement age animals that have worked hard their entire lives. They are mainly placed into homes as family companions. Others go on to do fun farming, showing, therapy, medieval shows, search and rescue, and mounted police work. Frog Pond doesn’t allow its horses to go into commercial carriage companies, to be used as lesson horses, or placed in trail or camp programs – they want personal family homes for them. “We have a lengthy adoption application consisting of 15 pages,” explains Lisa. “This covers not only the adopter but also includes a section for the barn owner/manager if the horse is boarded. This releases the horse from being held as collateral should a board bill issue arise. We are strict on fencing and shelter, and we need to know that the potential home has the financial means to properly care for any needs the horse might have. References are also very important.”
The Versatility of Drafts
“Draft horses make great husband horses, 4-H family horses, driving horses, and dressage, hilltopper, and cross country prospects,” says Lisa. “They are also good for riders who are concerned that their weight/height wouldn’t be suitable for a lighter breed. Drafts can do anything a light breed can do.” She recommends paying attention to what areas your draft seems to enjoy and do best at – this will help you determine the proper path for him.
Bigger Doesn’t Always Mean Stronger
Due to their size, there are some misconceptions about the exercise and handling of these breeds. “Far too many people believe that because drafts are larger, this allows them to be started under saddle at a younger age,” Lisa cautions
“Unfortunately, too many people start riding drafts as yearlings or two-year-olds. Drafts can grow until the age of six or seven. A draft shouldn’t be backed or ridden until he is at least four years old. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy him during his formative years. These animals can be trained for driving as early as a year and a half. This will make your animal much more supple, responsive and smart. Spend the first few years driving and enjoying your draft before you make the step to ride him. Give him a chance to grow up so you don’t create problems for him in the future.”
One thing owners need to understand is that these horses should not be made into big pets and allowed to do as they please. They can seriously injure or kill someone if allowed to use their size to get out of behaving. If you can’t handle your draft, seek out a qualified trainer and work with him or her to learn the proper methods of handling your draft.
Draft horses can require a significant amount of specialty care. They require a more stringent diet, and just because they are larger doesn’t always mean they get more (this also applies to medications, such as sedatives). Not all farriers are willing to work on draft horses. And these horses will test and possibly wreck certain types of fencing in an effort to reach grass on the other side, or in itching/scratching. Drafts are also more stoic when dealing with pain than many light breeds. You need to know your horse well to be able to see when he is not acting quite like himself.
“These horses require a high fat, low sugar/starch diet,” says Lisa. “This means they need a pelleted feed, a high fiber such as beet pulp, and added oil such as Cocosoya to properly function. If they are fed a high sugar diet, they can get what is called EPSM (PSSM). This is basically a breakdown of the muscle (most prevalent in the hind end), causing stability issues.”
It takes a special home and person to take on one of these gentle giants – but they have so much to offer in return. If you are considering adding a draft to your family, Lisa suggests you research, ask questions, and volunteer where you can learn more about the requirements of these large but wonderful animals, before deciding to bring one home.