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Big fun

Quebec’s Claude and Janice Bradley are having a ball with their two new ‘pets’ — Clydesdale draft horses
Story and photos by Mark E. Johnson 11/30/2011


Thirteen-year-old Bear was the first of two Clydesdales that Claude and Janice Bradley of White County purchased last year “just for fun.” They later bought Brutus, now 3.
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The iconic image ofnClydesdales brings to mind a shiny red-and-gold wagon, a tandem of drivers in crisp green uniforms with a sleek, spotted Dalmatian dog riding shotgun, and — most of all — a perfectly matched team of eight resplendent and noble draft horses high-stepping down a snowy New England lane, the long, silky hair above their hooves swaying to and fro as the clip-clops fall in unison.

On Claude and Janice Bradley’s rolling, 30-acre farm in White County, though, the scene is slightly different.

“The first thing they want to do after you clean them is go ‘waller’ in the pond,” laughs Claude, a longtime member of White County Farmers Cooperative, in reference to the couple’s two Clydesdales, Bear and Brutus. “They’ll lay down and roll in the mud, get it in their ears and everywhere. Some days, they look more like hogs than horses!”

And that’s just fine with Claude and Janice. After all, the couple didn’t purchase the horses to be pampered show animals living a life of controlled-climate stalls and television commercials. Rather, they reside on the picturesque farm for the best reason of all:

“Because we enjoy foolin’ with them and looking at them,” Claude says with a smile and a shrug. “That’s it.”

Last year, the couple purchased the black-and-white Clydesdales just for fun, and the massive animals have already generated interest within the community.

“We had them in the [Sparta] Christmas parade last year with an old farm wagon we found here locally, and people just loved it,” says Claude. “I was really surprised. I guess folks are used to seeing mules around here — even the really nice ones — but Clydesdales are unusual.”

A former contract hauler for Putnam Farmers Cooperative, the native White Countian says he first got the Clydesdale “bug” when he saw a team at the World’s Fair in Knoxville in 1982. The breed, he explains, originated in the Lanarkshire district of Scotland — once known as Clydesdale — in the early 19th century and quickly gained popularity as a draft horse in agricultural and industrial settings. Soon, however, the Clydesdale’s attractive conformation, high-stepping gait, and agreeable demeanor made it a favorite for carriage services, parades, and even dressage and hunter/jumping.

“They are a well-known draft horse, but you don’t encounter many of them around this part of the country,” says Claude. “As a teenager, I worked with a local man — Chester Sewell — who had some of the prettiest, most expensive show mules in the country. I learned all about hooking them up and working with them, so I’m no stranger to dealing with large equine. But I always preferred horses over mules and donkeys. I just think they’re prettier.”

In 2009, Claude and Janice — then newlyweds and living on a smaller nearby property — began discussing the possibility of purchasing some animals.

“I said that I’d like to have some donkeys,” recalls Janice, a 20-year employee of nearby Central Church of Christ. “Claude said, ‘If we’re going to feed something that big, we’re going to have some fun with it — and that’s not going to be donkeys! Let’s buy some Clydesdales!’”

The project was soon under way. As the couple began a two-year Internet search for “just the right pair” of Clydesdales — which can grow to around 18 hands tall (about 6 feet) and weigh upwards of 2,400 pounds — they quickly realized that they would need more space for the horses.

“About that time, this farm became available, and I’d always liked it over here, so we bought the place,” says Claude, who served as mayor of Sparta for four years and now hauls fuel full time. “As we were researching Clydesdales, we were also clearing land and preparing to build a house. It was a busy time, but it all sort of fell in place.”

The couple eventually found their first horse, a 13-year-old named Bear, in Ohio. Six months later, they located Brutus, 3, in Minnesota. Claude says the first meeting of the two Clydesdales was “sketchy.”

“By the time we got Brutus, Bear had long since established himself as top of the pecking order on the farm,” says Claude, adding that he and Janice own two quarter horses as well. “He gave Brutus a pretty hard time for the first few days, but now they are inseparable. When you turn them loose in the pasture, they walk side-by-side like they’re hooked to something, and they hardly ever get far apart. If you put one in the trailer to go somewhere, you better get the other in there quickly.”

The horses enjoy human company, too, says Janice.

“Oh, it’s awful — they’re like two pets,” she says with mock disdain. “They follow you around like dogs. They’d get in the car with you if they could get through the door.”

While the Bradleys’ new log cabin was being built, Claude adds, the workers got into a habit of petting the Clydesdales and giving them popcorn as a treat.

“Well, you have to drive through the pasture to get to the house, and the horses began blocking the road on those guys!” he laughs. “They wouldn’t move until [the workers] gave them some popcorn. You really just can’t beat Clydesdales, as far as disposition goes.”

Aside from the occasional popcorn snack, Bear and Brutus, each weighing around a ton, enjoy a robust diet of Co-op Winner’s Cup Advantage equine feed (#321), grass, and hay. Claude admits that it took a little “trial and error” to determine the correct amount of feed for such large animals.

“We’ve heard a lot of different opinions on how much a horse like that needs to eat,” he says. “We’ve settled on about 5 pounds a day apiece. They do real well on it, and it keeps their coats looking good.”

Janice says that because the horses are fond of rolling in mud, keeping their coats clean is a daily job. Especially difficult are the distinctive long hairs, or “feathers,” above the hooves, thought

by experts to be a characteristic bred into Clydesdales

and some other draft breeds to protect the feet from

diseases derived from excessive moisture.

“It’s unreal how thick that hair is,” says Janice. “Bear has a problem with skin sensitivity on his legs, so we keep his feathers trimmed so I can apply a medicated lotion. It’s frustrating because [the feathers] are one of the main reasons we wanted Clydesdales. Brutus isn’t old enough yet to have long feathers.”

Trimmed feathers notwithstanding, Claude says simply watching the horses running across the pasture is reason enough to have them.

“They are just spectacular animals,” he says. “They come with their own particular set of challenges, but we wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

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