Budweiser has some beautiful horses, but Cache Valley has Monty, Ace, Robo, Myron, Victor and Hal — 2018 world champions of the World Clydesdale Show held in Madison, Wis., last month.
Highpoint Clydesdales Owners Bret and Annette Fielding of College Ward returned to Cache Valley on Oct. 30, and they are still beaming with excitement after winning big in three classes over a three-day period — the open six-horse hitch, the open eight-horse hitch and the supreme six-horse hitch championship classes.
“We were just so tickled with the first night — that was all we ever hoped for,” Annette said. “The second day the pressure mounted. You know they can do it, but will they? And the third day, that was really a lot of pressure. But then, it was indescribable, more than we had ever dreamed of. We just felt the energy from the crowd, and the horses felt it too … it was really, really emotional on that third day.”
Ten years ago, Annette said, the Fieldings — who lived in Hooper at the time — didn’t even own a saddle horse, but an empty pasture and a freezer full of beef had them thinking about buying something other than more cows.
Their oldest son, then 9 years old, had just learned about Shires, draft horses originating in England.
“We found a lady in Michigan that had two Shires for sale so we bought them and had them shipped out,” Annette said. “It was a stallion and a mare, and she was pregnant — we were going to be Shire people.”
That was all fine and good until the year they went to the National Clydesdale sale and came home with three Clydesdales.
“None matched, none were the same age or the same size; we just thought they were cool,” Annette said. “So, we were just kind of fritterin’ around with that for a little while, and then we started going to some shows to watch and we saw the six-horse hitches — my husband, the first time he saw a six-horse hitch go around in the Denver stock show, he teared up. I mean, you can feel the ground shake … and he said, ‘I want to do that.’”
She paused in her storytelling to retrieve a bow from Myron’s mouth — he got bored and pulled it from Ace’s tail while the team was waiting for the next trip up the lane.
She continued after gently chastising him and replacing the bow.
“Anyway, so we started just finding horses here and there, trying to get them to match, learning how to drive and all those things that you kind of take for granted,” she said. “We had a really good neighbor down in Hooper that has a six-horse hitch of Clydes as well, and he taught me how to drive a team, taught me how to drive with four, and then we started working on six.”
Horses are much like people, each with their own distinctive personality and way of interacting with one another. Annette described some of them, saying middle-aged Monty could be called the proverbial “good child.”
“He is the oldest, and he is the heart of everything,” Annette said. “He is such a stalwart and such a leader. Such a professional horse — that’s why we’re brave enough to drive with a 3-year-old in the lead, because he is with Monty, and Monty just goes nope, teenager, we’re going this way! And he’ll push him over or drag him back.”
As lead horses, he and Ace must not only look the best and have the most leg-lift, they also have to be the most obedient.
Robo, one of the swing horses in the center, could be classified as the “troublemaker.”
“Everybody discounts Robo, but he’s my baby,” Annette said. “Robo got loose while we were trying to harness him today, and he could have run out to the road. And what did he do? He went straight in the barn.”
Robo was a castoff from Budweiser because his two front legs are black (with a big, beautiful heart on his left knee), so he didn’t meet the company’s strict requirement for four white legs.
“There are a lot of show people that wouldn’t put a horse with a dark leg in their hitch, but if they are athletic and they move good, we don’t care,” Annette said.
And, Annette said, there is Victor, who holds one of the wheel positions in the rear. He has striking markings around his face, similar to a paint horse, and he is something of ladies’ man, even if his tail needs some dye to cover the blond hairs streaking through.
The Fieldings took their horses to some local shows, and they were having a good time with that, but as time went on, Annette said her husband was wanting to get more and more competitive, so last year they competed in some of the larger draft horse shows in the Midwest before heading to the world show in Wisconsin this year.
Good body structure and form are important, but the judges are looking at the entire package, so the Fieldings harness them together in a group of six or eight, with chocolate brown on the left, and red-brown on the right, so the judge sees a matching set as the hitch is driven by.
“It is the whole visual, the way they look, and the way they move, and how clean your harness is, and how clean the horses are,” Annette said.
It takes nearly a dozen people to prepare the horses for show — they took nine of them to Wisconsin.
One of their friends has a commercial driver’s license, and he not only transports the Clydesdales but he also keeps their harnesses organized. Like a person’s wardrobe, each piece is fit to a certain horse so all of the components need to be kept together.
There is one man who is the trainer, farrier and hitch driver, and a woman who practices equine chiropractic and massage.
“They are just like athletes, and they need to be treated that way,” Annette said.
The Fieldings’ three sons clean stalls and keep the Clydes in feed and water.
After all of the horses are bathed — which takes about 30 minutes per horse — Annette, her niece and the chiropractor work together on the beauty work, with ribbons worked through the manes, tails tied in a bun, with a bow. The horses are harnessed, and then it’s showtime, whether they are in the arena or at home.
They grab your attention even before you can hear them coming down the lane, heads held high and proud as they prance in unison — like the world champions they are — with their massive hooves shaking the ground and the chains on their harnesses rhythmically jingling like sleigh bells.
“That lead horse is just proud, isn’t he?” Bret said about Monty as they pranced by.
“Having their heads up makes them look more powerful and proud of what they’re doing,” Annette said. “And they love their jobs. You think Monty doesn’t know he has all those ribbons on him right now? He knows.”