You want the best on your team if you’re planning on competing in the World Percheron Congress. When Jane Gray of Trippcrest Farm in Harrison, Maine wanted someone to train her horses for the event in 2010, she contacted Chad and Rhonda Cole of Pennwood Percherons in Center Hall, PA and secured them as her trainers. Gray’s horses won.
This year, the Coles were back again, with Gray’s horses and their own — 17 in all — for the 2014 World Percheron Congress, held Oct. 6-11 in Springfield, MA. On Tuesday evening, Oct. 7, they were braiding their horses’ manes and rolling up their tails. Chad Cole used a shish-ka-bob skewer to guide threads of the tail of a 17.2 hand Percheron named Rose into a ball. The Coles work full time as trainers, traveling around the U.S. and Canada to enter competitions. They brought a team of six people to assist them during this year’s Congress.
Rhonda Cole said, “We love horses to begin with. To be able to get up every day and get to work with something you love; how many people can say that?”
Even the Percherons love their job, tossing their heads and standing tall. “The ones that don’t like it, they go do something else. They become farm work horses, just family pets, just pleasure driving,” she said. Later that evening, they won the Jr. Team class, and came in third in the men’s team.
Freeman Yoder, manager of Young Living Farm from Mona, Utah, brought 14 horses to the Congress. Most of the year, he works on the farm with 140 head of horses — training young horses, breeding and working with the foals. From beginning of July to mid-October he travels to competitions. “It’s exciting. They’re great athletes. We love to compete. They’re very smart animals, very athletic,” he said. The horses are fed a high-performance diet of whole oats, alfalfa grass, vitamins and minerals.
His team of workers polished the huge Percherons’ hooves with black polish on rollers, stood on tall stepladders to braid their mane and hammered new nails into horseshoes. Some of the horses even received chiropractic treatment as preparation for the mare 2-hitch and open 8-horse hitch. “It’s what you live for,” Yoder said. “The World Congress is like our Superbowl of the draft horse world.”
While owners and managers were getting their horses ready, the Celebrity Drive-Off occurred in coliseum. Dr. Jan Pol, DVM star of National Geographic’s the Incredible Dr. Pol, rode in a carriage owned by Utopia Percherons of Goshen, CT. The horses were donated by New Hampshire’s Historic Runnymede Farm. Dr. Pol is very active with 4-H and FFA. After opening his practice in 1981 in Mt. Pleasant, MI with his wife Diane, he observed the downward trend of dairy farms and the scarcity of vets attuned to helping farmers manage their herds’ health. He made it his mission to revive those herds, and “return profitability back to the farmers.” He, his son Charles and 10 employees have treated approximately 20,000 clients since the practice opened.
Who’s minding emergencies while he’s here? “The clinic’s already taken over. Gotta have some fun in life. The whole family got invited,” said Dr. Pol, accompanied by Diane and Charles, who is also co-star and producer of the show.
“We really thought it would be interesting to see — we have a lot of clients who own Percherons — to see them with the wagons,” said his son.
Others slated for Celebrity Drive-Off: Pam Minick, former Miss Rodeo America; Kadee Coffman, national TV host; Victoria Jackson of Saturday Night Live fame; Miss Massachusetts 2014 Lauren Kuhn; 105.9 radio host Renee Dinino; Horse Radio Network founder Glenn Hebert; Wendy Ying, DVM, Country 92-5 DJ Wendy Steele; and Courtney, DJ for Kiss 95.7.
Rebecca Riddle traveled from North Pole, AK to ride the 17-hand white Percheron named Little Boy Blue for the first time ever on Tuesday to accompany her friend Brittany Egderton, of Down South Carriage Farm in Dalton, GA, and Gala Rogacheva, of Siberia, in representing those missing in action.
Jackie Gearing of Worcester, MA rode her horse Apollo. “He was a $1,500 Amish plow horse and now he’s a star,” she said.
Tamara Healy of Johnstown, NY owns eight horses, with two at the Congress, driving a cart called an Eagle. Owner of Classic Carriage Service, she drives people at weddings and other special occasions. She is entered in farm classes and driving classes. Her horse Sig will take part in a tribute to World War I. Her dog Ansley, a “carriage dog extraordinaire,” never leaves her side.