Boom Town


Suddenly, Draft Horse Town is something of a boomtown.

Last year, Draft Horse Town made its debut at the Calgary Stampede as a tribute to the mighty draft horse, and the indispensable role it played in building Western Canada. The new attraction was a runaway success, scoring high on Stampede exit surveys, with the magnificent equine beasts proving truly magnetic.

In hindsight, there was just one minor quibble.

“When we looked it over afterwards, we thought, ‘We need more horses,’ ” notes Dale Befus, the mayor of Draft Horse Town. “So we’re going to have more pens outside this year — we’ll be going from two to five. And we’ll be trying to represent the breeds a little better, so people can see what a Clydesdale is, and a Belgian, and a Percheron, and the differences between them.”

Notes Tim Lane, deputy mayor of Draft Horse Town: “We were amazed by how much people just wanted to see these big horses. Every time there was a horse parked anywhere in Draft Horse Town, there would be a crowd of people. So one of the things we built into this year’s plan was to have more horses, more often, out for the public to interact with.”

Draft Horse Town will be open daily at the 2011 Stampede, from July 8 to 17, on Saddledome Lane, between the Scotiabank Saddledome and the Agriculture Building.

Guided by their human counterparts, draft horses built the roads, pulled the wagons, carriages, and firefighting equipment, hauled the dirt and rock from building sites, and plowed the fields for planting crops during the settlement of Western Canada. Draft Horse Town is an engaging venue that offers Stampede visitors a slice of living history, plenty of hands-on activities and exhibits, and a close-up look at these brawny beasts.

Popular exhibitors returning this year are the Bar U Ranch of Longview, Alta., offering visitors the chance to ride one of its famous Percherons, wheelwrights demonstrating the craft of building wood-spoked wheels, and the Stampede’s Blacksmith committee, making horseshoes over glowing coke forges.

The Heavy Construction and Road Builders Historical Society of Canada will be back giving road-building demonstrations with draft horses. The Calgary Fire Department will show off a horse-drawn fire pumper wagon, while the Calgary Co-Op General Store and Historium offers unique draft horse items from exhibitors, as well as a fascinating display of century-old photos showing draft horses in action.

New this year is Fort Steele Heritage Town, with representatives recounting draft horses’ involvement in the logging industry and giving demonstrations with their black-and-white Clydes.

The Stampede’s Farm Equipment Committee will also be on hand to tell the agricultural story, showing off antique horse-powered farm equipment that includes a plow, a cultivator, a set of seed drills and a binder.

Calgary’s Military Museums, which will again demonstrate the use of horses in the Canadian military, are stepping up to the plate this year – with a re-enactment group on site Wednesday, July 13 and Thursday, July 14, setting up a cannon and caissons. “The big question,” chuckles Befus, “is whether we actually fire it or not.”

Teamsters and exhibitors will demonstrate how they prepare their teams for competitions such as the Heavy Horse Show, presented by Halliburton, which runs from July 8 to 11 at the Saddledome, and the Heavy Horse Pull, which goes from July 15 to 17 under the Big Top.

“We did have a few surprises last year; when the blacksmiths and the wheelwrights got the fire going, crowds would start gathering around,” says Lane. “Whenever there was a lot of fire and smoke and steam, people were drawn to it – and walked away with a new appreciation.

“There’s a lot of virtual reality in the business world these days. To see someone taking a hammer, banging on hot steel, and creating something, that’s a whole lot different than Facebooking or Twittering.”

Test your own “horsepower” with the Incredi-pull, as Draft Horse Town councilors organize four championships a day — dads versus sons, boys versus girls, town folk versus farm folk, you name it — complete with elimination ladders. Cool off under the spray of the pump wagon. Climb up on a carriage, have your picture taken with one of these gentle giants, and make sure to visit the Heavy Horse Barns to meet these brawny beasts who’ve been known to tip the scales at 2,600 pounds.

“We’ve regrouped after a successful first year, and brought in some people to help us keep growing Draft Horse Town,” says Befus. “We’ve got lots of areas to cover yet. We haven’t got to them, but we will.”

The Stampede will be webcasting all events being held in the Saddledome and the Big Top this year. Visit for live streaming of Saddledome action, and for events under the Big Top.


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