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Horse Brasses: How to Identify Them and What They Mean

The History and Present Use of Horse Brasses

If you have ever watched a parade of horses, you’ve likely seen horse brasses on the leather straps that attach the horses to the carriage they are pulling.

Brasses are most commonly seen in use on draft and cart horses. 

A Brief History of Horse Brasses

Unless you know a thing or two about horse tack, chances are you haven’t given much thought to them serving any purpose beyond making the horse look pretty. 

Decking horses out with brasses is a practice that’s been around since before the Romans, although the metal used then was not actually brass but rather bronze. It is thought that horse brasses in pre-Roman times were amulets used to ward off evil spirits. While this may have been true, horse brasses on leather straps were more widely used as status symbols for the wealthy.

The development and use of brass in horse tack did not occur until the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st (1559-1603) in England. Even with the introduction of brass, a brass-like alloy of copper and zinc known as “latten” was commonly used until at least 1830. 

The English town of Walsall, already established as a prominent place for the manufacture of horse tack from 1830 on, became a sort of landmark for the production of—and growing interest in—horse brasses.

From large producers down to solitary craftspeople, the manufacture of horse brasses grew from that point until some 2000 designs had come into existence.

These days, horse brasses can be found decorating the saddlery of working horses regardless of the social class of the horse’s owner or handler. Brasses have also been made as commemorative pieces for horse clubs, corporations or event coordinators and are often used as decorations in pubs and restaurants. 

As jewellery, horse brasses have even crossed the species barrier to become a popular motif for necklaces and earrings. 

To this day, all additional uses aside, brasses are still used in horse finery.

Common Motifs on Horse Brasses

Although there are over 2,000 horse brass designs in existence, there are some designs and motifs that are commonly found, such as: 

  • The crescent moon was considered to be lucky by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • Apollo’s lyre is a motif that comes from Greek mythology.
  • Trees and barnyard animal motifs were popular with farmers.
  • Family crests and heraldic motifs were used by the titled gentry.
  • Trade-related motifs, such as brewery barrels, were used by people associated with those trades.
  • Hearts, moons, stars and so on have Romany origins.

Manufacturing Methods for Horse Brasses

There were two traditional ways of manufacturing horse brasses: casting and stamping.

The casting method is the oldest way of manufacturing these horse decorations. The patterns were first created in lead, which was then pressed into tightly packed sand-filled boxes, with up to 10 to a box. Small channels were made in the sand, connecting each pattern indentation so that molten metal could pass from one indentation to the next. After the metal cooled, the patterns would be separated from each other and then sanded and polished smooth. This finishing process used to be done by hand, but it is now done with machinery.

The stamping method came along around 1880. It involved using a fly press to stamp a pattern onto sheets of metal, one punch at a time. In later years, machines were developed that could stamp out an entire design at one time. 

After WWI, the demand for heavy horse harness furnishings died down considerably, and the stamping method of production suffered as a result. It was through the work of small-time manufacturers specializing in casting that horse brasses lived on and eventually enjoyed a renewed interest. 

Horse Brass Use Today

Where horse brasses used to be status symbols for the wealthy and then tack furnishings for draft and carriage horses, they are now largely used in parades or other events where a horse’s finery is expected to be displayed. For example, a carriage driver that has been hired for a wedding may deck their horses out in brasses to fit the elegance of the occasion. 

In addition to their traditional use on horses, brasses are also used in several other ways, including:

  • As decorations in homes, pubs, country clubs, restaurants and many other social spots. 
  • As jewellery.
  • As commemorative art for important events, such as royal coronations.
  • As advertising.
  • As souvenirs for places and social events.

While horse brasses are not among the most financially valuable collector’s items, they do enjoy immense popularity. In this way, they have a kind of value that money simply cannot buy. Theirs is the value of history, culture and charm.

Are Horse Brasses Lucky?

Things that are considered to bring good luck are generally items that are steeped in history and superstition, such as the horseshoe, the lucky rabbit’s foot, or the 4-leaf clover.

  • In the case of the horseshoe, hanging a horseshoe—open end up—over a doorway is said to accumulate luck for the household. 
  • As for the rabbit’s foot, the animal itself was considered to be sacred by many early civilizations, so it was thought that having a rabbit’s foot as a talisman would bring one good fortune. 
  • Finding a 4-leaf clover was such a rarity that the Irish felt the extra leaf brought good luck to those who found one or had it on their person.

The horse brass is, likewise, steeped in history and superstition. If you consider that horse brasses used to be thought of as amulets to protect a horse (and thus its handler) by warding off evil spirits, then they sit alongside the best of the best as a good luck charm. 

At Tally Ho Tours, we treat our draft horses as if they are the luckiest of good luck charms: with love and respect. 

Stop by our tour location in downtown Victoria, BC, to meet some of our horses and drivers face to face, or book one of our carriage tours to make memories that will last a lifetime. 

 

A Day in the Life of a Horse Carriage Driver

What it Takes to Drive a Horse and Carriage

Maybe you’ve passed by a horse-drawn carriage on the busy streets of downtown Victoria, BC, or maybe you’ve watched a pair of horses with a fancy Landau, carrying a newly married bride and groom

Perhaps you’ve looked at the person perched at the front of the horse carriage and wondered what it takes to become a horse and carriage driver for a company like Tally Ho Carriage Tours.

Humans and horses have been working closely together since 6,000 BCE, so it’s no surprise that we’ve developed tried and true methods to communicate with our equine friends. A big part of becoming a carriage driver is learning these communication methods and learning mutual trust.

Keep reading to find out more about the role and duties of a horse-drawn carriage driver, the breeds of horses that usually pull carriages and the types of carriages that can be pulled.

How to Become a Horse Carriage Driver

When a new carriage driver joins the team at Tally Ho, they receive rigorous training to learn gentle communication skills as well as how to look after the carriage horses while they are working.

Aside from an obvious interest and experience with horses, you will need to have the following skills to become a successful horse carriage driver:

  • Excellent communication skills. A large part of the job involves talking with the public and your passengers.
  • The ability to follow the local laws governing horse carriage driving. Each municipality will have carriage-specific laws you will need to be familiar with.
  • The ability to handle a horse that is operating in a highly stimulating environment. Busy streets require a high degree of environmental and situational awareness. You need to be able to anticipate issues and support your horse if they become uncertain.
  • The ability to provide care for the horse during and after their shift. Your horse will require grooming, feeding and watering during their work hours. Tally Ho horses work short shifts after which they return to Hidden Acres Farm to relax and recover.
  • The ability to educate and inform people. Rarely does the general public have knowledge of how a carriage company operates. Acting as an ambassador, you will be expected to pass along the history of the company, how it develops the horse-human connections, its horse care practices and its ethics, values and culture.
  • Knowledge of the local tourist highlights and traffic concerns. This kind of local knowledge will not only improve your passengers’ experience but it will also help you navigate the streets easier.
  • The ability to pass a criminal record check. Not all carriage tour companies require this but being able to pass a criminal record check will go a long way toward helping you get hired.

A Day in the Life of a Tally Ho Carriage Driver

A typical shift for a carriage driver working for Tally Ho Tours in Victoria, BC may include:

  • Starting your shift by greeting, grooming and preparing the horse(s) and carriage for the day. This will include ensuring the horses have appropriate food and water while working; ensuring they are both physically and mentally fit for their workday; and checking all carriage driving equipment is in good condition and proper working order.
  • Guiding passengers on a variety of tours ranging from short city tours around the downtown core to longer tours that take in the beauty of Beacon Hill Park. Carriage drivers learn interesting anecdotes about the areas they tour around to share with guests.
  • Sometimes our drivers are lucky enough to be part of someone’s special day such as a babymoon, engagement or wedding celebration. 
  • Throughout any tour, drivers are alert to everything going on around them and continuously communicate with the horse(s) through words and the use of the lines and bit.
  • After tours, drivers ensure the horse receives water and food, and checks on all the tack to ensure the horse remains comfortable.

Common Types of Horse-Drawn Carriages

As a horse carriage driver, you may be asked to guide your horse(s) to pull a variety of carriages ranging from small 2-person carriages to ones that hold larger groups. The most common passenger-carrying horse carriages in use are:

The Landau. The Landau is a type of 4-wheeled luxury carriage, featuring a folded roof that can be raised or lowered as needed. This type can seat up to 6 passengers, with a low shell design that allows for easy entry and for the occupants to show off their finery.

The Phaeton. The Phaeton is essentially a lighter version of the Landau. It can be pulled by one or two horses and is designed to seat 2 passengers. Featuring 4 large wheels and a lightly sprung body, this faster carriage became popular among royalty during the Regency Era.

The Buggy. The buggy is a light, 2-wheeled carriage designed to carry up to 2 passengers. It features a foldable roof that can be raised or lowered as needed and was a popular mode of transportation from the 18th to the 20th centuries. 

The Stagecoach. Commonly seen now in western and other period movies, the stagecoach provides transport for up to 6 passengers in a closed cab that protects them from the elements. Stagecoaches are typically pulled by a team of 6 horses or more because of their heavy weight.

The Hackney Coach. The Hackney Coach is one of the oldest 4-wheeled designs. It is lighter than the stagecoach, yet still able to seat up to 6 passengers. The Hackney used to function in the same way as the modern taxicab, in that it was hired to transport people from one place to another.

The Best Horse Breeds for Horse-Drawn Carriages

Many different horse breeds have been bred expressly to pull carriages over the centuries. Draft horse breeds are ideal for pulling carriages because they were all bred to pull heavy weights. 

Draft horses can easily pull a wheeled vehicle that is 6 times its weight and most carriage horses are only expending less than 20% of their energy when pulling a wagon on a tour. 

At Tally Ho, we use draft horse breeds to pull our carriages including:

Tip: Find out more about how we train and care for our horses here.

A Carriage Driving Career with Tally Ho Tours

Do you have a lifelong passion for horses that you’d like to turn into a career? Tally Ho Tours is always on the lookout for people with a passion for horses and customer service to join the team. 

We provide extensive training to help our drivers learn to drive draft horses safely as well as develop a trust-based partnership with our horses. 

If you have experience with horses and would like to expand your skills, please email us your resume and a brief synopsis of your equine skills.

All About Tack: Why Horses Wear What They Do

What Tack is Used When Riding Vs Pulling a Carriage?

Whenever you see a horse with a rider or pulling a carriage, you will notice that it is wearing various straps and harnesses, known collectively as tack. Horse tack is used to help the rider or driver communicate with the horse and ensures both are safe and comfortable.

Depending on the horse’s task, different tack may be required. In this article, we’re going to focus on the type of tack needed when riding a horse and pulling a carriage.

What is Tack And What Is It For?

Horse tack is all the equipment and gear required to handle, ride or harness a horse. Tack is not just one item but a range of things needed for different activities with a horse.

Some of the most commonly seen and used horse tack includes:

  • Bridle
  • Bit
  • Reins
  • Harness
  • Collar
  • Halter
  • Saddle / saddle pad
  • Cinch/Girth
  • Stirrups
  • Lead rope

Why Does Different Tack Need To Be Used Sometimes?

Depending on the horse’s activity, the tack required will be a bit different. Although a few core items will remain constant, some tack items may differ slightly, or you may need some unique equipment.

*Think about how a horse moves when pulling a cart vs doing show jumping, for example, and you can understand why tack needs to be adapted to the activity.

What Tack Is Needed When Riding A Horse?

When riding a horse, there is different tack required than when a horse is pulling something. As such, riding requires equipment to keep the rider in place.

Both rider and horse need to be comfortable, and the tack needs to allow for gentle but precise communication between them so the horse understands what the rider is asking it to do. 

Common types of tack required for riding include:

  • Bridle – horses’ headgear, usually made up of a halter (sometimes called a headstall), a bit and reins. 
  • Halter – a piece of equipment, usually made of leather, that wraps around the horse’s head to which a bit, reins, or a lead rope can be attached.
  • Bit – a piece of metal that sits in the horse’s mouth and attaches to the bridle and reins. When the reins are pulled, the bit puts gentle pressure on the side of the horse’s mouth, causing it to change direction. A bit is a crucial communication tool between the rider and horse. Read more about how Tally Ho Carriage Tours train horses to work with bits here.
  • Reins – a leather or rope strap attached to the bit and held by the rider to control movement.
  • Saddle – this is a leather seat for the rider. Different styles are available depending on the type or style of riding you prefer, such as western saddles or racing saddles.
  • Cinch /Girth – a strap that holds the saddle firmly but comfortably against the horse’s body.
  • Stirrups (optional) – foot holders attached to the saddle that make the rider more comfortable and secure

What Tack do Horses Wear to Pull Carriages?

Pulling a carriage or cart requires different tack from riding. The primary purposes of the tack for a carriage pulling horse are:

  • To secure the horse and the carriage together in a way that allows the horse to use their entire body strength to easily move and stop the carriage without risk of discomfort or injury.
  • To ensure the driver can communicate clearly with the horse. This is important when horses are working in unpredictable environments like city streets.

The tack used on a working horse that is pulling a carriage is similar to tack used when riding a horse: bridle, bit, and reins. There are, however, some other vital pieces of horse tack required for this job, including:

  • Harness – a set of straps and devices that attach the horse to the item it is pulling
  • Collar – part of the harness, a pair of curved wooden or metal pieces (called Hames) that help distribute the weight around the horse’s shoulders
  • Traces – leather or chain straps linking the collar to the load
  • Breeching (Britching) strap – a strap that ties behind the horse’s haunches and enables it to slow or stop the item it is pulling

Did You Know? The horses that pull carriages for Tally Ho are all draft horses – breeds with the strength to pull at least 6 times their body weight. Pulling a carriage uses only 20% of this capacity.

Why is Clean and Well-Fitting Tack Important?

Clean and well-fitting tack is essential for the well-being and comfort of the horse (and rider when there is one). Conversely, poorly fitting tack can result in:

  • Saddle slippage – can result in injury or a fall for the rider and rubbing/discomfort for the horse.
  • Sore mouth – if a bit is too large or tight, it will put excess pressure on the horse’s mouth resulting in damage to the soft mouth tissue. As a result, the horse can suffer pain, infection, and inability to respond correctly to commands.

Failure to keep tack clean and sanitary could put the horse at risk of infection and damage the equipment over time, leading to loss. So follow in the footsteps of the team at Tally Ho Carriage Tours and make cleaning of tack your priority after an outing on your horse.

At Tally Ho, our entire team is dedicated to the well-being of our horses and to the safety of our staff and customers. Thanks to our extensive training with our horses, they are all very responsive, which means drivers only need to use minimal pressure when giving instructions. In addition, as you can see in this video, our horses are comfortable in their tack and happy to wear it.

Experience The Strength of Draft Horses on a Carriage Tour with Tally-Ho

Meet our delightful draft horses in person when you take a scenic carriage ride with Tally Ho Carriage Tours. Enjoy a historical tour through the streets of downtown Victoria, BC, a relaxing ride through the country on the Sea Cider Picnic Experience, or one of our special seasonal tours. Contact us today to book your tour.

Horse Breeds – The Shire

Shire Horses – Facts, Origin & History

We hope you’ve been following along on our Tally-Ho horse breeds mini-series and enjoying getting to know the unique history and characteristics of some of the world’s most beloved draft horse breeds.  So far, we’ve featured the iconic Clydesdale, the majestic Percheron (the horse favoured by medieval knights) and the Belgian. Next up we have another special draft breed, the Shire.

The Origin of the Shire Horse

The Shire is a British breed of draft horse that was formally established in the mid-eighteenth century, although, like many of the draft breeds we’re profiling, the Shire’s origins are much older.

Like that of the Belgian draft horse, historians trace the Shire back to the destriers or the “Great Horse”.  More specifically, the Shire is linked to the time of Henry VIII when the increasing role of gunpowder diminished the use of heavy horses in battle.  Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry sought out lighter, faster mounts and the heavier drafts were relegated to draught work instead.

It was during the sixteenth century that Dutch engineers brought Friesian horses to England to drain the Fenlands – a coastal plain in the east.  It’s believed that the Friesian bloodlines were introduced to domestic draft breeds, influencing what would later become known as the Shire breed.

At the onset of the seventeenth century this medieval hybrid was called the Old English Black.  During this time, a man by the name of Robert Bakewell of Leicestershire, imported six Dutch (or Flanders) mares, resulting in the supposedly superior Bakewell Black horse.  Eventually two different types of black draft horses evolved: the Fen or Lincolnshire type (larger, with more bone and extra hair) and the Midlands or Leicester type (known for their endurance and finer appearance).

The term “Shire Horse” was first referenced in the middle of the seventeenth century with inconsistent records beginning to appear near the end of the eighteenth century.  The famous “Packington Blind Horse” from Leicestershire is commonly recognized as the foundation stallion of the modern-day Shire breed, standing at stud for 15 years – quite a feat in terms of equine life expectancy of that era.

During the nineteenth century, Shire horses were extensively used as cart horses, moving essential goods from the docks, through busy cities and further on to the countryside.  As a result, the English Cart Horse Society was formed in 1878, and only six years later was renamed the Shire Horse Society due to the prevalence of the Shire horses.  Between 1901 and 1914 approximately 5,000 Shire horses were registered each year with the society.

The Modern History of the Shire Horse

The first exported Shires horses reached America in 1853, with large numbers beginning to arrive in the 1880s.  In 1885 the American Shire Horse Association was established as a platform to register and promote the breed domestically.  Nearly 4,000 Shires were imported to the United States between 1900 and 1918 and approximately 6,700 Shires were registered with the association between 1909 and 1911 and the breed continued to flourish both in England and North America, for several years following.

At peak population, the Shire breed numbered over a million.  Around the time of the second world war, increased mechanization rendered draft breeds more and more obsolete.  This, combined with strict regulations on the purchase of livestock feed sadly led to the slaughter of thousands of Shire horses and the closure of several large breeding programs.  The breed fell to its lowest point during the 1950s and 1960s, with only 25 horses registered in the United States.  

In the 1970s, the breed began to be revived through increased public interest.  In Canada, the Shire had been extinct for more than 40 years prior to imports that saw its return in the 1980s.  Breed societies have been established in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, France and Germany and the first World Shire Horse Congress was held in Peterborough in 1996.  The introduction of artificial insemination in 1997 further bolstered the breed.

To this day, however, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists the Shire as “at risk” with population numbers estimated to be under 1,500.  In the United States, the Livestock Conservancy lists the breed as “critical” and the Equus Survival Trust calls it “vulnerable”.   There are still reportedly fewer than 300 registered Shires in all of Canada.

Past and Present Uses of the Shire Horse

Like the Belgian Draft horse – and several other heavy breeds – the Shire originated as a war horse.  However, mechanization and the evolution of the breed, very early saw the Shire gain prevalence as a cart horse.

More notably, the Shire was the breed of choice for the delivery of ale from the brewer to the public houses – England’s equivalent to North America’s Budweiser Clydesdales.  A few breweries still maintain this tradition in the UK today, including Wadsworth Brewery in Wiltshire, the Hook Norton and Samuel Smith Breweries in Tadcaster and a handful of others.

The Shire’s superior hauling capacity also made it an excellent candidate for agriculture and logging.  In 1924, at a British exhibition, a pair of Shires was estimated to have pulled a starting load equal to 50 tonnes (or 110,231 lbs), although the exact weight was contested as their pull was said to have exceeded the maximum reading on the dynamometer.  The same pair of Shires returned to competition in a subsequent year and, in wet and slippery footing, still managed to pull a verified 18.5 tonnes (or 40,786 lbs).

In North America, the Shire horse is still used in farm work and private small-scale logging, as well as pleasure driving.  Shire-Thoroughbred crosses have also gained popularity as excellent sport horses under saddle.

Shire Horse Conformation and Colour

Shires are sometimes confused with Clydesdales due to the feathers on their lower legs, a feature that is equally characteristic to the Shire breed, though finer and less voluminous than the Clydesdale’s.  In terms of acceptable breed specifications with registering associations, Shire stallions may be black, bay, brown or grey, but cannot have large amounts of white marking or have coat colours that are roan.  And for UK-based breeding associations, stallions may not be chestnut. The above applies for US associations, except for chestnut stallions, which are acceptable. Mares and geldings, however, are permitted to be roan in both the UK and US. 

A taller draft breed than some, the Shire’s average height sits around 17 – 18 hands high, or 1.72-1.83 metres from the ground to their withers.  Depending on the bloodlines, the build of the Shire can vary in heaviness, ranging from 1,700 – 2,400 lbs.

Setting it apart from the Clydesdale, Percheron and Belgian Drafts that we featured previously, the Shire breed has a long, streamline head that is set on a slightly arched neck that is long in proportion to the body.  However, similar to other draft breeds, the shoulder and chest are deep and wide, the back muscular and short, and the hindquarters long and wide. 

The largest and heaviest horse ever recorded in history was a Shire aptly named Mammoth, but more commonly known as Sampson.  He measured an astounding 21.2 hands high (or 2.18 metres from the ground to the withers) and in his peak, weighed in at a colossal 3,360 lbs.   

Character Traits & Trainability of the Shire Horse

Like so many of the cold-blooded draft breeds, Shires are known for being calm, steadfast, and loyal, which make them exceptionally versatile work horses.  Shires do, however, have their limits and are not shy in communicating when those limits have been reached.

Shires seem to have a desire to understand the objective of what is being asked.  While they will often respond to commands with trusted handlers, without consistency and context, Shires are known to become very stubborn.

Unlike other, hotter horse breeds that may run, or rear or strike out if they feel insecure or disrespected, Shires simply leverage their impressive size and will refuse to move.  Where other training tactics may be used to coerce lighter breeds, Shires are often not phased by these methods and will stand their ground until handlers step up.  

The other side of this innate stubbornness is a level of dedication and loyalty that, when earned, never wains.  This relationship-centric work ethic makes the Shire a sought-after breed the world over.

Meet the Tally-Ho Shire Horses

Tally-Ho is honoured to play a small role in helping to preserve and promote this incredible (and vulnerable) draft breed.  We currently have five purebred Shires in our herd, Annie, Belle, Button and Maggie – and our newest, Trace.

If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Shires, or any members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our website at www.tallyhotours.com to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake! 

Horse Breeds – The Belgian Draft

Belgian Draft Horses – Facts, Origin & History

Next up in our Tally-Ho horse breeds mini-series is the Belgian draft horse. While Belgian drafts share some similarities with our two previously featured breeds, the iconic Clydesdale and the majestic Percheron, they have a unique history and characteristics that are all their own. 

The Origin of the Belgian Draft Horse

As the name suggests, the Belgian draft Horse originates from Belgium.  Among many breed historians, the Belgian is believed to be descendant from the Flemish “destriers” of the Middle Ages.  The word destrier does not refer to a specific breed of horse, but rather a type of horse.  The destrier, also referred to by contemporary sources as The Great Horse, was highly prized by medieval knights and men-at-arms and was coveted as the finest and strongest of the era’s warhorses. 

The foundation stock for the Belgian was originally known as the Brabant, named after the specific region within Belgium from which the breed originates.  Historically, the breed has gone by several names including Cheval de trait Belge, Brabançon, Trait Belge and Belgisch Trekpaard.

The large, well-muscled Belgian quickly gained notoriety as one of the strongest of the heavy draft breeds.  Export across Europe, and exposure in district show circuits which culminated in the National Show in Brussels, established the Belgian breed as a fixture in Belgium’s national heritage.  By 1891, Belgian draft horses taking up residents in government stables in Russia, Italy, Germany, France and the old Austria-Hungary Empire.

The Modern History of the Belgian Draft Horse

It wasn’t until 1866 that the first Belgian was exported to the United States and though the breed was accepted by draft horse enthusiasts, at the time it was not nearly so popular as the Percheron.  Over the next two decades the Belgian gained favour, and in 1887 three residents of Wabash, Indiana – Harmon Wolf, Abraham Status and Nathan Meyer – founded The American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses, which was more efficiently renamed the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America.

In 1903, the government of Belgium sent an exhibit of their finest Belgian drafts to the St. Louis World’s Fair and the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.  This further solidified the breed’s following in the States and although exports from Belgium experienced significant downturns at the onset of both the first and second world wars, breeding programs in America ensured the Belgian gained in numbers.  

Prior to the 1940s the Belgian and the Brabant were essentially interchangeable.  Following World War II, however, the Brabant in Europe was selectively bred to have thicker, heavier bodies and notably crested necks.  Meanwhile, in the USA, breeding programs sought to develop a Belgian draft with somewhat lighter, more agile bodies with taller frames.

In the 1960s a man named Albert Stankiewicz, disappointed in the changes he was seeing in the American-bred Belgians, sought to return the breed to its original pre-war heavy working draft, breeding his imported stallions to old-style domestic Belgian mares. That traditional breed line became known as the American Brabant and its preservation is championed by the American Brabant Association, which was formed in 1999.

Today in the United States, Belgians (together with American Brabant horses) out number all other heavy draft breeds combined.    

Belgian Draft Horses in Canada

The Belgian Government produced a National Stud Book in 1886 and the first imported Belgian arrived in Canada in 1902, landing in Quebec.  The Canadian Belgian Draft Breeder’s Association was incorporated in 1907, and since then, there have been over 37,000 registrations. As was the case in America, registrations hit an extreme low during the second world war, but rebounded thanks in large part to Amish and Mennonite communities that remain heavily dependent on draft breeds for farm use.

Past and Present Uses of the Belgian Draft Horse

While many historians claim its original role was that of a mighty medieval war horse, the Belgian breed as we know it today, was founded in heavy agricultural work, logging and hauling.  In exhibition environments, Belgian horses have been reported pulling weights over three times their own body weight. 

Developments to the domestic Belgian and Brabant bloodlines have led to an extraordinarily versatile horse.  While Belgian Drafts are still used as working horses, these draft horses often compete in the show ring in halter, hitch and riding classes, and are enjoyed in a vast number of recreational equine activities.

Belgian Draft Conformation and Colour

The Belgian is widely considered to be one of (if not, the) strongest and heaviest of the draft breeds.  Early Belgians imported from Europe were seen in a variety of coat colours including, bay, black, chestnut and roan.  Modern-day, North American-bred Belgians have seen a surge in sorrel-coloured horses (chestnut bodies with flaxen manes and tails).  

While domestic Belgians have been bred to be taller and slightly finer than their European counterparts, they stand slightly shorter and heavier bodied than the average Clydesdale.  Belgians measure at an average height of 16-17 hands (1.62 to 1.72 metres from the ground to their wither) and typically weigh between 2,100 and 2,300 lbs.  By comparison, the iconic Clydesdale horse can measure 18 hands and still be approximately 200 lbs lighter!

While they may not be known as the tallest of the heavy draft breeds, the world’s largest Belgian Draft horse named Big Jake, was recorded as standing 20.3 hands (2.06 metres) and weighed in at an astonishing 2,600 lbs.

Character Traits & Trainability of the Belgian Draft Horse

Due to their superb temperament, Belgian horses are gaining popularity as schooling horses and therapy horses in riding programs.  Known as gentle giants, they are quiet and docile in hand and under saddle and yet exceptionally willing to please, especially when they are confident in their understanding of the task at hand.  Belgian enthusiasts will tell you they are exceptionally intelligent and perceptive animals capable of developing strong working bonds with their human handlers.

Meet the Tally Ho Belgian Draft Horses

Tally Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have two purebred Belgians, Remy & Delilah, as well as a pair of Belgian-Percheron cross geldings (Timber and Tucker) whose Percheron origins are detailed in our last horse breed blog.   

If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Belgians, or any members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our website at www.tallyhotours.com to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake!  

Horse Breeds – The Suffolk Punch

Suffolk Punch Horses – Facts, Origin & History

We hope you’ve been following along on our Tally-Ho horse breeds mini-series and enjoying getting to know the unique history and characteristics of some of the worlds most beloved draft horse breeds.  So far, we’ve featured four of our five breeds: the iconic Clydesdale; the majestic Percheron; knightly Belgian Draft and the impressive Shire.  Last, but certainly not least, of our series is the very special, and comparatively rare, Suffolk Punch.

The Origin of the Suffolk Punch

Like the Shire, the Suffolk Punch (also known as the Suffolk Horse or Suffolk Sorrel) is a draft breed that is English in origin.  This first part of the name is in reference to the County of Suffolk, which is located in East Anglia.

The breed was developed in the early 16th century and the Suffolk Punch registry is the oldest English breed society.  William Camden’s Britannia, published in 1586 is said to contain the first reference to the Suffolk Punch, with a description of the eastern counties horse that leaves little question as to its identity as the recognizable breed.

An in-depth genetic study of the Suffolk Punch revealed it is closely grouped with both the European Haflinger and the British Fell and Dales ponies.  Developed in (then) isolated counties of Suffolk and Norfolk for farm work, the breed had tremendous longevity and were rarely sold, which helped to keep the bloodlines largely unchanged.

This relative isolation, however, lead to a succession challenge in the 1760s when many of the male breeding lines died off, resulting in a genetic bottleneck – a challenge that bore its head again in the late 18th century.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Norfolk Trotter, Norfolk Cob and Thoroughbred bloodlines were strategically introduced to the Suffolk breed as a means of addressing the genetic bottlenecks.  Additional breeds were introduced in an effort to increase the overall size and stature of the Suffolk Punch, but these efforts had negligible long-term impact on the breed, which remains much as it was prior to the introduction of crossbreeding.  

The Modern History of the Suffolk Punch

The first official exports of the Suffolks to Canada took place in 1865.  The Suffolk Horse Society of Britain published its first stud book in 1880, which saw the immediate export of Suffolks to the United States. Subsequent breeding programs saw the breed rise in numbers across North America.  By 1908, Suffolk Punch exportation from Britain, included Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and various parts of Africa, amongst other countries.

With the dawn of the Second World War, the Suffolk sadly went the way of many other heavy draft breeds when increased mechanization and a shortage of both livestock and human food sources resulted in thousands of horses being sent to slaughter. 

In 1966, only nine foals were registered with the Suffolk Horse Society. A revival of the breed began in the 1960s and numbers began to rise although the breed did remain rare. Even as recently as 1998, only 80 breeding mares were accounted for in Britain and their offspring were a mere 40 annually.

Following WWII, the American Suffolk Horse Association remained inactive for approximately 15 years and only became reinvigorated in 1961 with a resurgence of the draft horse market.  To further support the breed’s revival and prevent inbreeding, the American registry permitted selective crossbreeding with the Belgian Draft in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  

Similarities between Belgian breed conformation and colouring, helped preserve the integrity of the Suffolk Punch breed.  Furthermore, only fillies from these crosses were eligible for registration with the US association.  Despite best efforts of their American counterpart, Suffolks with this new American bloodline, were not allowed to be registered with the British Association. 

Although the Suffolk Punch population has come a long way since their lowest point in the early 1960s, both the Rare Breeds Survival Trust of the UK and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy list the Suffolk Punch as “critical”.  Between 2001 and 2006 history was made when, for the first time, American breeding stock (one stallion and three mares) were exported to the United Kingdom.

As of 2011, there were reported to be less than 1,350 Suffolks registered in the UK and North America combined, approximately 1,200 of those from Canada and the USA under the auspices of the American Suffolk Horse Association.  The Suffolk Punch is still considered the rarest of draft breeds in the United Kingdom. 

Past and Present Uses of the Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Punch is one of the few heavy draft breeds that was purposefully bred for farm work.  While they were utilized to pull heavy artillery during wartimes, their foundation was in agriculture.  Suffolks are still used today in commercial forestry operations and for other draught work and have also found a place in tourism and pleasure driving.  They have been popular for crossbreeding to produce sport horses for use in the Hunter and Show Jumping rings, passing on their dense bone structure, physical strength, expressive gait and exceptional hoof conformation.

Suffolk Punch Horse Conformation and Colour

Despite selective crossbreeding throughout the ages, the Suffolk Punch has remained remarkably (and unusually) close in phenotype to its founding stock.  They typically stand between 16.1 and 17.2 hands high (or 1.64 to 1.75 metres) tall and weigh, on average, between 2,000 to 2,200 lbs.

Unlike other draft breeds that vary in coat colour, Suffolks are always chestnut (or sorrel), many with flaxen manes and tails.  Equestrian author, Marguerite Henry has been quoted as saying “His colour is bright chestnut – like a tongue of fire against black field furrows, against green corn blades, against yellow wheat, against blue horizons.  Never is he any other colour.”  Surprisingly, however, Suffolks feature a variety of shades within the chestnut pallet, ranging from dark liver chestnut, dull dark, red, bright red and light sorrel.  White markings are rare and are typically limited to the face or present as a lightening on the lower, unfeathered legs.

As is a hallmark with many draft breeds, the Suffolk Punch has a powerful arching neck, well-muscled sloping shoulders, a short and wide back, and a wide and muscular croup.  Legs are shorter than some with dense bone and broad joints.

In the past, the Suffolk was notoriously criticized for poor hoof quality, having feet that were thought to be too small to support the massive weight and structure of its body.  The introduction of major shows and registries in which hoof structure and conformation was graded – a uniquely innovative practice among horse breeds – resulted in such positive impact that the Suffolk Punch is now considered to have some of the most desired hoof conformation, relative to their bodies, out of many heavy and light breeds.

Character Traits & Trainability of the Suffolk Punch Horse

While there is some variation between draft breeds and there will certainly always be exceptions from horse to horse, Suffolks live up to the calm, intelligent and hard-working characteristics shared by most heavy drafts.

One added benefit to the Suffolk Punch breed, is that they tend to mature earlier and be long-lived, and are also known as “easy keepers”, that typically require less feed than other horses of similar type and stature.  

Tally-Ho and the Suffolk Punch Horse

While Tally-Ho doesn’t have any Suffolk Punch horses currently in rotation for our carriage tours, we’ve been privileged to work with this special breed of draft horse over the years.  Delilah is our happily retired Suffolk Punch who is currently living the dream with her other draft horse friends on the farm. We hope to one day reintegrate another Suffolk Punch into our herd again.

If you’d like to learn more about members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our tours page to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake!  

Horse Breeds – The Percheron

Percheron Horses – Facts, Origin & History

In November we introduced a blog mini-series featuring the five draft horse breeds that make up the Tally-Ho working herd.  Our first article featured the iconic Clydesdale horse, explaining that the origin, history and many wonderful traits of the Clydesdale goes far beyond its association with the popular branding by Budweiser. In this entry we’ll dive into the backstory of the majestic Percheron horse, of which we have two full bred and two half Percheron half Belgian bred (another draft breed we’ll learn about in the coming weeks). 

A History of the Percheron Horse

Early ancestors of the breed were first noted in Western France, more specifically, the Huisne River Valley in the former Perche Province from which the Percheron claims its name. 

While the exact origin of the Percheron horse is a matter of some mystery and much debate, one theory speculates that foundation stock came from a small number of mares captured by Clovis the First King of the Franks from the Bretons sometime after 496 AD.  Another theory suggests that some of the first Percheron foals were sired by Andalusian cavalry stallions brought over from Spain by the Moors, then confiscated by warriors of Perche upon the Moors’ defeat at the Battle Poitiers (Battle of Tours) in 732 AD.  A third theory is that the Percheron and the Boulonnais breed— brought to Brittany as reinforcements for Caesar’s legions— are closely related.  

Between 1789 and the early 1800s, the Percheron was in danger of extinction due to a suppression of horse breeding during the French Revolution. It was shortly after this time, in the late 18th century and early 19th century, that two gray Arabian stallions from Le Pin were said to have been introduced to the bloodline. This is contested by modern day breed historians who maintain there were still enough Percheron breeding stock without the introduction of additional breeds. Today, all Percherons are able to trace their ancestry back to a 1823 foundation stallion named Jean le Blanc, who’s progeny saw the breed become larger.

In 1893 the first Percheron stud book was created in France, which was followed by the first exported Percherons to the United States.  The first exportations of Percherons were less than successful with several animals perishing during or shortly after the lengthy and turbulent journey across the seas.  However, one stallion aptly named Diligence was credited with siring nearly 400 foals in the USA.  

The Modern History of the Percheron

Over the next 75 years, the export of Percherons to the United States saw dramatic fluctuations in numbers until 1906 when 13,000 arrived in the USA in the one year alone.  By the 1930s, Percherons accounted for over 70 percent of the purebred draft horses in the United States, with a 1930 census of horses accounting for over 33,000 Percherons in the country.  

The story went similarly in Canada.  By 1930, the Percheron was so popular that a Canadian census showed that there were three times as many Percherons registered as there were of the other four main draft breeds combined.  

But the Percheron boom was not long lived.  The end of World War II and a subsequent increase in mechanization led to a dramatic decline in the population.  By 1954 only 85 Percherons were registered in the US, a record low, and the subsequent two decades the breed did not fare much better.

Percheron Horses in Canada

In Canada, however, the Percheron continued to be a mainstay in Amish communities.  At one point, the highest concentration of Percherons in the world was said to be in Alberta, in a 50 mile radius of Calgary, and was referred to as the “Percheron Mafia”.  Pete Thumond of Sage Hill Percherons is quoted as saying that 90 percent of Percherons in the US today can be traced back to Alberta stock.

In the 1970s Canadian’s Bill and Opal Lucas imported the last known French Percheron to Canada.  The impressive grey stallion named Farman, was the first import from France since the 1930s and would become pivotal to domestic bloodlines.  Another prominent Canadian Percheron stallion was Justamere Showtime out of Saskatchewan.  By 1983, approximately 300 of the 512 registered Percherons could trace their lineage back to Justamere Showtime.   

The late 90s and early 2000s saw a resurgence of the Percheron breed in the United States (and Canada) with 2,500 new horses being registered with the Percheron Horse Association of America annually by 2009.  The Percheron horse is now listed as “recovering” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 

Past and Present Uses of the Percheron Horse

Originally bred for use as war horses, Percherons were later used for pulling large stagecoaches and, later still, for work in agriculture and for hauling heavy goods.  The Percheron is the most notable and populous of all the French draft breeds in the world today.  They have been favoured over the centuries for cross breeding to improve bloodlines in Ardennes and Vladimir Heavy Drafts (among many others) and were also crossed with Andalusian horses to create the Spanish-Norman breed.    

Percherons are still used around the world today in parades and sleigh or hay rides, and are used to pull large carriages in cities. The most extensive team of working Percherons in Europe is found at Disneyland Paris, making up 30 percent of the horses in the park.

In Canada, Percherons are still the draft horse of choice for those lucky enough to win private sustainable logging contracts.  On Prince Edward Island, Percherons are still used for the harvest of a type of seaweed called Irish Moss, navigating rocky shores and bringing approximately $1M annually to the region.

In Great Britain, the Percheron is favoured among horse breeds for advertising and publicity due to their commanding stature and presence.  They are also still actively used in forestry and agricultural work.  

Percherons are also exceptional riding horses, particularly for heavier riders and more demanding riding disciplines.  Some purebred Percherons have proven useful at show jumping, though it is more common to see Percherons crossed with Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods for the show ring.  In Australia, Thoroughbred-Percheron crosses are also used as mounted police horses. 

Percheron Conformation and Colour

Though the conformation – or physical make-up of the breed – has evolved over the years, modern breed standard describes a horse that is anywhere from 15-19 hands high (or 60 to 76 inches from the ground to the top of their wither).  Their weight ranges from 1,600 lbs in the shorter or more refined builds, to an imposing 2,400 lbs on the larger end of the scale.  

Percherons have striking, broadheads with alert and forward ears and bright, prominent eyes that communicate intelligence and spirit.  The neck is longer than some draft breeds and considerably arched, flowing into a long sloping shoulder that typically sits at a 45 degree angle to support free, forward movement and naturally expressive carriage.

A well-bred Percheron should have a deep, wide chest to accommodate a strong heart and a big lung capacity.  Other characteristics of the breed include well-defined withers, a short back, a deep girth, a longer level croup, a large and well-rounded hip and powerfully defined muscling in the lower thigh.  Percherons may appear slightly “cow hocked” in the hind end – or stand with their hocks fairly close together.  While this may not be a particularly desirable trait in, say, a dressage horse, for the Percheron it provides power and action for hauling or pulling heavy loads.  Unlike the Clydesdale with its iconic feathered lower limbs, the Percheron has very little feathering.   

They are most commonly grey or black in colour, but sorrel (or chestnut) and bay Percherons appear on occasion and are still accepted by most Percheron Registries.  

Character Traits & Trainability of the Percheron Horse

Like the Clydesdale, Percherons are referred to as “cold blooded”, which means that they tend to be very level headed and measured in their interactions with people and their environments, as opposed to other breeds that can be more flighty, reactive or “hot”.  

Those who work with Percherons will tell you that they quickly earn their handlers’ allegiance.  Extremely willing, Percherons will tackle any job set before them with power, grace and determination.  They are also a very intelligent breed that learn new tasks with ease and have a soft, yet commanding presence. 

Meet the Tally-Ho Herd of Horses

Tally-Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have two purebred Percherons (Jinx and King) as well as a pair of Percheron-Belgian cross geldings (Timber and Tucker) who were formerly a logging duo.   

If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Percherons, or any members of our herd, you can choose to sponsor a horse or visit our website at www.tallyhotours.com to book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person. Can’t get enough of our gentle horses? Take your very own plush horse home to love. Available in 7.5″ or 12.5″ heights, “Clyde” and “Rimsky” are available in our online gift shop. They come complete with pulling harnesses and make a wonderful keepsake!  

Horse Breeds – the Clydesdale

Clydesdale Horse: Facts, Origin & History

In today’s urban landscape, few sounds can elicit the wonder and excitement of the clip-clopping of a horse’s feet down a city street.  If you live or work in downtown Victoria or have had the privilege to visit our historic waterfront city, you’ve undoubtedly heard this sound and seen some of the colourful horses from the Tally-Ho herd.  

Aside from their different coat colours and markings, you might think they are the same kind of horse. However, there are several unique draft breeds across the world that range in size from light to heavy types.  

Over our next series of blog posts, we’re going to take you through the unique history and features of five of these breeds – including the Clydesdale, Percheron, Belgian, Shire and Suffolk Punch – that make up the Tally-Ho herd. First up, is the iconic Clydesdale horse. 

A Brief History of the Clydesdale Horse

These days, Clydesdale horses are often synonymous with the Budweiser brand.  We’ve all seen, and likely gushed over the heartwarming Budweiser Clydesdale ads that debut each year as part of a popular sporting event in the USA, which for trademark purposes, shall remain unnamed in this blog.  But the Clydesdale horse has a rich and lengthy history that extends much further back than the brewery’s ownership, which began in the 1930s at the end of prohibition.  

The Clydesdale is a mid-18th century Scottish breed named after the valley of the River Clyde.  Brabant and Belgian Drafts, and later Flemish Stallions, were imported and bred to local mares resulting in a new crop of foals that were significantly larger than traditional local stock.  A black unnamed stallion imported from England by John Paterson of Lochlyloch was particularly pivotal to the breed and is said to be the sire of an 1806 born filly known as “Lampits Mare”.  Lampits Mare and her progeny, Glancer (also known as Thompson’s Black Horse) can be traced in the ancestry of the vast majority of Clydesdales still living today.

For years the Clydesdale horse could only be found throughout Scotland and into Northern England.  However, following the formation of the American Clydesdale Association (later renamed the Clydesdale Breeders of the USA), the breed began to earn favour in the United States and Canada.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large numbers of Clydesdale horses were exported from Scotland, with a recorded 1,617 breeding stallions leaving the country in a single year.  Over the course of approximately 60 years, export certificates were issued for over 20,000 Clydesdales, which made their way to North America, but also South America, Russia, and continental Europe as well.  Clydesdale horses also became popular in New Zealand and Australia and have even been called “the breed that built Australia”.

During the First World War, thousands of Clydesdale horses were conscripted, as was the case (though in more limited numbers) for the Second World War.  Between the two wars and in subsequent years, Clydesdale horses began to decline in numbers as farms and other traditionally horse-powered industries became more mechanized.  By 1975 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust considered them “vulnerable to extinction”.  In the years since, this iconic breed’s status has fluctuated to “at risk” and recently back to “vulnerable”, with less than 5,000 Clydesdale horses currently worldwide.  

Past and Present Uses of the Clydesdale Horse

Like many draft horses, Clydesdales were originally used for agricultural work and, in their home county of Lanarkshire in Scotland, they were specifically bred to haul coal from local mines.  As the breed became popular in regions across the world, they were also used for logging and driving, and many are still used as heavy working horses to this day.

In more recent times, Clydesdales have become riding horses and even found their way into the show ring.  With carriage services, and for festivals, they have become a favourite partly because of their show-stopping looks and white, feathery legs.

Clydesdales are also used by the British Household Cavalry as drum horses, leading parades on ceremonial and state occasions, carrying the Musical Ride Officer and two silver drums weighing 123 lbs each.    

Clydesdale Conformation and Colour

In general, draft horses (spelled ‘draught’ in the UK and derived from the Old English word dragan, meaning “to draw or haul”) are easily identifiable by their imposing stature and strong, muscular builds, and the modern-day Clydesdale is no different.  But the conformation – or physicality – of the breed has evolved significantly throughout history.  

In earlier years, the Clydesdale was a compact horse that was smaller than several other draft breeds including Belgians, Shires and Percherons.  In later years, selective breeding resulted in larger horses that were believed to be even better suited for heavy hauling and would appear more impressive in shows and parades.  Today’s Clydesdales are rarely under 17 hands high (or 68 inches from the ground to the top of their wither) and can weigh in excess of 2,000 lbs.

Typical Clydesdales have either straight or slightly convex facial profiles with broad muzzles and foreheads.  They tend to have a thick and arched medium-set neck, higher wither profiles and big sloped shoulders.  Clydesdales are often noted to have an expressive, high-stepping gait. 

As previously mentioned, Clydesdales are among the most famous of draft breeds due to their association with Budweiser Brewery.  Budweiser’s breeding program has influenced the look of the breed in North America to such a degree that many people believe Clydesdales only come in Bay colour (reddish-brown body with black mane and tail) and white markings.  However, the breed can also come in black, grey and chestnut and can sometimes come with subtle roaning (white flecked coat variation) or a more overt Sabino pattern, which is said to be a genetic colour mutation.  While breed associations support all these colours, Bay and Black Clydesdales with four white legs and facial markings are the most sought after and therefore, most plentiful.

Character Traits & Trainability of the Clydesdale Horse

Clydesdales – and most heavy draft breeds – are often referred to as “coldblooded”.   Unlike the reptilian association to the term, in the equestrian world this means that they tend to be very calm, collected and gentle in their interactions with people and their environments.  By contrast, high-flight, high-spirited thoroughbreds that have been bred for racing, would be considered “hotblooded”.

However, being coldblooded doesn’t also mean that the Clydesdale is lacking in spirit or personality.  They are known to be highly intelligent and keen to work (sometimes bordering on competitive), and they are also known to exert a not-too-subtle degree of stubbornness if they feel their trainer or handler is not setting clear and fair expectations.  Some avid Clydesdale enthusiasts will go as far as to say they have big expressive personalities that are matched only by their physicality.  

While there may be individual exceptions, the breed is very level-headed and adaptable to new environments and activities.  This, coupled with their aforementioned intelligence and eagerness to work, make them a highly trainable breed.  

Meet the Tally-Ho Clydesdale Horses

In earlier years, Scotland alone was said to have approximately 140,000 Clydesdales in towns, cities and working farms.  By 1975, their numbers in the UK had plummeted to between 500-900 animals and the breed was listed as “vulnerable to extinction”.  Thankfully, due to export to other countries, including Canada, numbers have been very slowly climbing.  However, with only 5,000 currently living worldwide, Clydesdales are still considered a threatened breed.  

Tally-Ho is honoured to play a small role in preserving this incredible draft breed.  We currently have 6 incredible Clydesdales (Clay, Jerry, Kashe, Major, Sarge and Spot) who are members of our working carriage team and serve as tremendous educational ambassadors for their breed.  If you’d like to learn more about our beloved Clydesdales, or any members of our herd, you can visit our website to sponsor a horse or book a tour to experience these majestic horses in person.

The History of the Horse and Buggy

A Timeline of the Horse and Carriage

At Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, we love being able to provide the experience of an era gone by, when life moved slower and horses were central to everything people did. We offer a step back in time while showing our guests the unique history right here in Victoria, BC.

From the homely, covered wagon to the ornate Coronation Coach, the horse-drawn carriage has a long and storied past. This mode of transportation is still used today in many Mennonite and Amish communities, has seen a resurgence in the farming community and of course, is always a fun and unique tourism experience.

The Very First Horse and Buggy

The domestication of horses began over 6,000 years ago, when man started to work alongside horses to accomplish farming activities; trusted in the horse’s courage and power to carry him through battle; and drew on the horse’s stamina to provide transportation. In return, the horse found himself no longer searching for food, shelter and care. 

The horse and buggy we know today has a fascinating history dating all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest form of a buggy was the chariot which is thought to be the first wheeled transportation, and was designed for use in battle. It was rudimentary, with little more than a floor, short sides and a basic seat (basin) for two people to sit in. It was pulled by no more than two horses and rolled along on two wheels. Most commonly it required its passengers to stand through the bumps and was viewed as a way to get around quickly during Egyptian warfare.

Tally Ho Carriage Tours circa 1905

The Horse and Buggy Throughout the Ages

As the popularity of horses grew the breadth and depth of their service also grew, and with each new service, man created new equipment. An array of buggies were built to suit the intended purpose, including speed, stability, long-distance travels, transportation of goods, etc.; and finishes ranged from rough cut boards to ornate pieces of art. 

Owning a nice buggy was often for the upper-class as it went along with the need to upkeep one or more horses. The wealthy typically had a carriage with four wheels and double seats; farmers made do with wagons on which to transport their goods; and poorer travellers would often go with others by stagecoach. In cities such as London, two-wheeled carriages that resembled the early Mesopotamian buggies provided taxi services.

Types of Horse-Drawn Buggies

Stagecoach – The stagecoach was a main form of public transport dating back to the 13th century, and was still widely used until the 1900s when the automobile started to become more popular. Stages could cover long distances, often carrying 20 or more passengers; and were pulled by four to eight horses. Like today’s buses, the stagecoach ran on a schedule with specified stops. At each stop or “stage”, horses were switched out for a fresh team. 

Conestoga Wagon – Introduced to North America by German immigrants in the early 1700s, the Conestoga Wagon was used until the late 1800s to transport goods across rough terrain. It was built to haul major loads (up to 12,000 pounds) and was pulled by up to eight horses, or a dozen oxen, which would travel up to 24 kilometres per day. The seams of the wagon were tarred to enable it to travel through rivers, and it was covered by stretched canvas. The teamster would walk beside the wagon as it was an extremely rough ride and many men could not withstand it for long.

Part of the reason we drive on the right side of the road here in Canada is thanks to the Conestoga wagon.

Buckboard Wagon – Designed in America in the early 19th century, the Buckboard was a basic wagon often used by farmers. It differed from a carriage in that the body of the vehicle had no suspension; instead it included leaf springs under the driver’s seat to help provide some shock absorption. It was so named for the front boards that were used as a footrest by the driver to help stabilize the bumpy ride, and as an added layer of protection from bucking horses’ hooves.

Barouche (or Calèche) Carriage – Of German design, the Barouche was introduced to England in the 1760s. It is a lightweight, four-wheeled, open carriage, where the passengers sit vis-à-vis (face to face). As a fancier carriage, there was a hood over the back which could be closed during inclement weather. They were originally pulled by four or more horses and were largely used by the wealthy.

The Barouche carriage has a special place in history as it was the type of carriage that Abraham Lincoln rode in on the night he was assassinated. 

Hansom Cab – One of the most popular forms of carriage was the Hansom – named after the designer Joseph Hansom, who patented this type of carriage in 1834 in England. The Hansom Cab was the predecessor to today’s taxis. It was a two-wheeled, two-seater that was light and agile, and only required one horse to pull it; the driver sat behind the cab. In its heyday, there were over 7,500 cabs operating in London alone.

Coronation Coach – Of course, the most gilded and ornamental coaches were nicer to view than they were to actually ride in. The Coronation Coach in Britain was built in 1762, weighs four tons and is covered in gold leaf. It’s so heavy that it requires eight horses and can still only be pulled at a walking pace. According to King William IV (who was a former Naval officer), riding in the Coronation Coach was like being “tossed in a rough sea.”

When Did the Horse and Buggy Era Decline?

Most experts believe the horse and buggy days started to fade out around 1910 when the horse and buggy was replaced by the automobile. Once the railway and personal automobile became readily available to the middle class, the horse and buggy fell out of favour as a mode of transport. Because the automobile could travel further distances and iron steam engine trains could haul many more travellers and cargo, there was much more freedom of mobility. Rather than being dependent on the horse, families could travel at a moment’s notice, without needing to stop to switch out teams.

Despite the decline in travel via horse-drawn buggy, the social nature of horses has seen them remain a constant companion to man.

4 horse hitch circa 1951

Get to Know Our Team of Working Horses

At Tally-Ho, we rely on our team of gorgeous Percheron, Belgian, Clydesdale and Shire horses to carry our guests throughout old towne Victoria, quaint country roads, or along custom-created routes for weddings and other special occasions. These breeds are known as draft horses and they are naturally able to pull Tally-Ho’s vis-a-vis carriages with ease, using only 20 percent of their actual capacity. They live just 25 minutes from downtown Victoria at Hidden Acres Farm where they live happily with their caregivers and other four-legged family members, including Tally-Ho’s retired horses.

The horse and buggy provide a truly special and intimate experience for any occasion. Tally-Ho Carriage Tours is Victoria’s original public transportation company, with services starting in the Gold Rush era of the 1850s, making this iconic company the longest-running, historical attraction in the city. It is recognized for its commitment to the ethical treatment and care of the magnificent, world-renowned draft horses. Allow their professional, fun-loving guides to delight you with the surrounding history, local folklore, and exclusive insights into their horses and operation. 

Now you can book your historic tour through the streets of downtown Victoria; a relaxing ride through the country on the Sea Cider Picnic Experience; an up-close experience with the horses on a Farm Tour; or seasonal offering such as the Haunted Halloween Tour, Caroling in the Country, or the Valentine’s Day Ho & Throw. Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by phone at (250) 514- 9257, or email at tallyho@tallyhotours.com. Tally-Ho! Uniquely Charming. Famously Fun.

Farrier Fridays – Trimming

This week in our Farrier Friday instalment, featuring Major and Trace, we check out the first steps in the shoeing process, removing the old shoe and trimming the foot. Will tells us what they are looking for when trimming the hoof and we get a look at Majors ENORMOUS size 12 shoe!