Dave and Susie Rohrbach have built their life-long passion for horses into a highly successful — if unusual — business that allows them to spend their time doing what they love. They have been successful because they understand that for many people, special events can be enhanced by the addition of horses.
The Rohrbachs’ business, Bee Tree Trail Percherons, provides fancy, well-trained draft horses and a line of specialty carriages and conveyances, many of their own design, to transport customers to weddings, birthday bashes, anniversary parties, business and family get-togethers, sweet sixteen celebrations and even funerals.
Dave and Susie Rohrbach each have their own trucks and trailers, and he has a collection of snappy outfits, including tall wool top hats, that customers can choose from so that he, too, adds to the ambience.
Building and maintaining such a business is not easy. It requires careful attention to many event details and catering to customers’ needs, wants, and whims as they determine how the horses will best enhance their event.
Although their home base is in Shartlesville, PA, Bee Tree Trail Percheron’s horses, conveyances and services have been in demand in quite a few states in the mid-Atlantic, Southeast, New England and also in the west.
One of their most popular carriages (which the Rohrbachs designed and built) is a fancy white pumpkin coach. It is the choice of many brides and girls celebrating their sweet sixteen. Their Percherons have been in movies and on MTV, TLC and ABC, and have pulled carriages for local and regional queens and princesses in parades of all types. They have also assisted with charity events, particularly for children with cancer.
The Rohrbach’s Percherons are bred and maintained for show. “These horses are not the kind to pull a plow,” explained Rohrbach. “Their necks come too high off their withers. In the old country, Percherons were not this big. There, Percherons were often used for logging, and for that, a shorter horse is best for the line of draft. If a logging horse is too tall, it will pick the log up, and that will wear out the horse more quickly, so he won’t be able to work all day.”
With a smaller Percheron, that log will just skim across the ground, which makes for a more successful logging situation.
“Today, Percherons range, on average, from about 1,400 to 2,500 pounds. The heaviest ones have a big body structure and are used mainly for pulling weight. We keep our Percherons at about 1,800 pounds. Our oldest lead horse is 16. He’s a great lead horse. He’s all ‘go,’ and he gets the job done. I know of show Percherons showing till they’re 22, and still going strong.”
Although the Bee Tree Trail Percherons are not raised for pulling heavy weights, they can. “The dappled gray one here, and a white one pulled 6,000 pounds at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. And that was with just a flat shoe, since they’re mainly carriage horses and on the road, rather than with the pulling-type shoes generally used on draft horses for pulling heavy weights.”
The Rohrbachs are strict about their horses’ diets to keep them trim and full of energy. “These horses don’t see fats. They get no corn. They’re fed mostly good timothy hay. The more sugar they get, the faster they want to go.”
The horses are meticulously groomed before each special event. “We wash them with warm water, and use Spray ‘n Wash by Straight Arrow, concentrating on the mane and tail. It makes them smell a little less horsey, and leaves the manes and tails more manageable. Then we lightly spray with Spray ‘n White, and rub it in. Their tails are braided with Easy Braid, also by Straight Arrow.
“We use show harness with housings because they make the horses look fancier, particularly for pictures. We have checks on the horses so they hold their heads up for a snappier appearance.”
Dave Rohrbach has a reputation at events such as the 2014 Ag Progess Days for his complex hitching of his Percherons in unusual configurations that most drivers scratch their heads over. Dave has learned how to make these hitches work.
The hitching is a hard job, requiring four people to efficiently fasten all the chains, hitches and lines to hold, in this case, the five horses in position (an unusual conformation of three horses behind and two in front), and to make it possible for Rohrbach to control them at all times.
When the huge horses stepped out briskly in their full regalia at this year’s Ag Progress Days, it was a lump-in-the-throat moment for many bystanders. The powerful, beautiful Percherons, under Rohrbach’s full control simply by adjusting line, are impressive. It is easy to see why Bee Tree Trail Percherons has been so successful in adding a never-to-be-forgotten touch to so many special events.