Work horses put to the test

Longview: Bar U Ranch hosting chore horse competition on Sept. 7

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014 11:08 am

David Farran walks his two Percheron horses at his ranch near Turner Valley on Aug. 26. Farran will be in the Bar U Ranch’s annual chore horse competition this weekend.
David Farran walks his two Percheron horses at his ranch near Turner Valley on Aug. 26. Farran will be in the Bar U Ranch’s annual chore horse competition this weekend.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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A Turner Valley farmer whose horses work his farm almost every day is putting them to the test in front of an audience next month.

David Farran is entering two teams of Percheron horses into the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site’s annual chore horse competition on Sept. 7, putting himself up against about a dozen experienced teamsters for the chance to win a silver buckle. The event begins at 1 p.m.

“It’s a fun event because it tests your skills as a teamster and a horseman, and it takes place in September, which is after you’ve been using your horses fully for the summer so it’s a good wrap up for the year,” he said. “It’s a very social thing meeting other teamsters that you don’t see all year. It’s a fun social event.”

Farran is entering his team of 14-year-old Percherons Dick and Duke again this year, which he uses for basic farming, selective logging and backcountry trips to the mountains.

“Percherons tend to be very calm and reliable, so I think for this kind of competition they have very solid temperaments,” he said. “With a draught horse you need to trust that they will listen to you and they are not agitated and excitable. They need to be very relaxed.”

Farran is also entering a new pair of Percherons he is purchasing for plowing and farming named Rex and Rod.

“It’s a bit of a stretch to be entering them because I won’t have had them for more than a week,” he said.

Mike McLean, Bar U Ranch acting site manager, said the competition brings to life the fact that horsepower was used for so many tasks a century ago from hauling fire wagons to constructing roads.

“It goes back to the days when you used horses all the time,” he said. “Whether it was on a ranch, whether it was on a farm or whether it was in town it was important to have a really good chore team to take care of your every day tasks.”

The chore horse competition challenges teamsters to guide their horses through a timed obstacle course of skill-testing tasks.

McLean said each teamster enters the ring on foot behind the team of horses and participates in a variety of tasks including hooking them onto a wagon, opening a gate while the horses stay put, going through obstacles that represent a tight alleyway and backing up to a loading dock.

“We’re trying to represent things that would have happened around the farm,” said McLean.

While Farran has competed in the event for about five years, he still finds it nerve-racking.

“As confident as you can feel as a teamster there’s something about doing a chore horse competition in front of an audience that gives you the jitters and a case of the nerves,” he admitted. “I always seem to get nervous at the chore horse competition.”

Farran suspects that’s the way many cowboys feel when it’s time to put their animals and skills to the test in front of an audience.

“I think some of the most experienced teamsters can get a case of the jitters when they go into a show horse competition,” he said. “I think that’s the case with all kinds of competitions. I’m sure barrel racers and other horse competitors feel the same way.”

Farran said it often results in the horses feeling the nervousness and reacting to it.

“What you might be able to do at home never seems to translate into the arena,” he said. “If you’re a little bit nervous the horses immediately know you’re nervous. They just have an instinct. Between the three of you, you can make stupid mistakes.”

Although Farran hasn’t returned home with the winning silver buckle yet, he knows the best way to prepare for the competition is to spend as much time with his horses as possible working around the farm.

He’s spent some time over the summer doing regular farm chores, and just began binding for harvest.

“The more time you can spend with your horses the better prepared they are,” he said. “It represents well what you would do with the team and also the different moves and commands that you should know as a teamster. It tests your ability to back up and for your horses to stand still while you open a gate and maneuver around a tight course and all the things you should be able to do.”


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