Lots of people ask Derek, my husband and I what made us interested enough in Percherons to start raising them. The answer begins with a little black Shetland Pony named Licorice. My Dad, Ray, the Ray in Rebecca Ray, bought our daughter, Lizzie her first pony when Lizzie was 2, so that she could ride with my husband and I the way I used to ride behind my Dad on a long lounge line. Truth be told, we had Licorice long before the barn and she lived, quite happily, in the third car bay of our attached garage and spent her days in a lovely pasture we immediately constructed. Lizzie and I used to clean her stall in our bathrobes. The barn came a year later or so, and frankly from that day on, I missed her nickering when I was changing laundry on the other side of the garage door where she clearly heard me. Licorice came to us pregnant, unbeknownst to us, and after a quick ultrasound, when we realized her status, she had the best prenatal care, but unfortunately, despite carrying a black colt full term, he was stillborn despite all of our efforts.
Lizzie and Licorice the pony.
Derek, Lizzie and Licorice getting ready for a Lead Line class.
Our entire “village” mourned for Licorice and us as EVERYONE knew about the little Shetland Pony who lived on Hillbrook Lane. The three of us drove her cart almost every night during the summer, up and down and around. Lizzie rode her in the tiny English Saddle and we, too, her for walks. Lizzie, of course, adored Licorice and they had a tremendous bond. But what I never anticipated happening was the “heart” bond I had with Licorice. There was a very human quality about this pony, and she and I had an unspoken understanding of when she needed me most and when I needed her most.
Lizzie driving Licorice as a local show.
Licorice would spend afternoons inside a local Chagrin store with us to share the Rebecca Ray product and she was positively perfect at that task. She’d march in the house on occasion and when I walked her through town she looked like the Pied Pier with a steady stream of children running behind her. And, most importantly, Licorice introduced all three of us to the wonderful world of driving horses (or ponies in her case). She was literally like a sewing machine when she pulled a cart, off she went, in any climate, condition or traffic, sleighs with jingle bells in the snow, a governess cart with red white and blue bunting for the summer. Once we met Licorice, we knew our lives wouldn’t be complete without more driving horses. Which is exactly how we ended up with Percherons. We knew we wanted to pull bigger carts and wagons and I had always been fascinated by Percherons.
Furry friends in our barn.
Rebecca and one of her Percheron foals.
Draft Horses (which in this country typically include Percherons, Belgians and Clydesdales) built this country. And given I’m a history buff and antiques collector, you can understand my fascination. These breeds have faced extinction more than once, and after the Second World War, many of their jobs here and abroad had been replaced. At the turn of the century, Percherons outnumbered all other draft breeds here in America by 3 to 1 and they say that “America was built on the back of a draft.” Percherons were the taxis in the cities, the milk cart horses and plowed all the fields. They were indispensable on any farm and they even pulled up the circus tents and then performed in the circus. They are tractable, measured, athletic, smart and most importantly, truly gentle giants. Originating in La Perche, France, this cold blooded breed runs all the way back to the knights’ horses and then later on, they were the munitions horses in battle. They had to be levelheaded to do their job. In 1839, among an imported group of horses including a mare named Joan and a stallion named Diligence arrived in the US by steamer ship. To this day the Percheron Horse Association of America maintains one of the most progressive, complete, cross-referenced stud book data bases I have ever had the pleasure of using.
Rebecca driving a team of her Percheron horses.
Hemlock Lane Farms young Percheron Stallion.
The vast majority of Percherons are either black or grey, grey being my favorite by far, but also far more challenging in matching hitch horses as those greys all begin black and all dapple out at different rates. The mares are excellent mothers for the most part and we adore raising the babies. We breed with both live cover or extended semen, depending on the circumstances and it has been a marvelous family avocation and adventure that we all share. We have converted many of our hunter friends and anyone who meets our girls immediately gets why we are so enchanted with the breed. Our girls do everything for us - from driving, riding and we show them in hand as well. Everything we do is supersized from tack, shoes, trailers and sheets and blankets to the amount that they eat. Just like other horses, there are tremendous highs and lows, lots of wins and a fair amount of heartbreak, but we wouldn’t trade our girls for the world. This last week we were hitching a six horse hitch with friends and their black geldings - I’ve attached some video so for you to enjoy. And to think it all began with a little black Shetland Pony named Licorice. We lost Licorice shortly after we moved into our current Farm, but I think of her often. Not only does she live on in all of these beautiful Percherons, but she gave Lizzie the lifelong equestrian bug and she certainly gave us the gift of driving.
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