Prized Clydesdale team disbanded at auction

MANNVILLE, Alta., – A heavy horse tradition came to an end near the place of its birth.

Jim Bryden’s famous Clydesdale eight-horse hitch team was auctioned off amidst the tears and cheers of the western heavy horse fraternity in Vermilion last week.

Undisputed heavyweight champions of the summer fair circuit and the symbol of its sponsor, the United Farmers of Alberta, the Brywood Clydes were sold to several different buyers, breaking up Canada’s largest heavy horse team. It was apparent from the tears shed by some in the crowd, as well as the Brydens and their staff, that the sale stirred deep feelings.

“It was time. Time to get on and do other things,” said Jim Bryden, moments after the auctioneer’s gavel sent his last horse to a new home.

Since 1908, the family has raised and shown horses from their Mannville, Alta., farm and has built a heavy horse tradition and population in eastern Alberta.

The impact of the Brywood Clydes will continue in Vermilion with a heavy horse barn on the exhibition grounds designed by Bryden. As well, the Brywood tradition will carry on though all of Western Canada through the numerous foals from the bloodline living in barns, pastures and fair grounds.

It was hoped the team might remain together as several American beer companies and a steakhouse chain were interested in the animals. But in the end, the horses went their separate ways, bringing an average $5,200 each.

End of an era

“For that price they should have stayed together,” said Bryden.

Buyers and those from the heavy horse world who came out to see the passing of an era agreed.

Lawrence McGibbon, of Cranbrook, B.C., paid $11,700 for a pair of the horses, to make up a “big wheel team.”

“A pair of horses like this would have brought $20,000 two years ago. The prices paid today are on the low side,” said McGibbon. He will show the pair pulling a cart this week in Monroe, Wash.

Budweiser, an American brewer, took one of the 11 bay Clydesdales to the U.S. to be fit into an existing corporate team.

“It’s the people you miss. I’m going to miss the people. The horse people are always there for you. Our crews have always had students from the colleges, and to us they’re family. … We’ll be losing some family,” said Bryden.

Shirley Bryden says her husband will not only miss the people, but also the horses that have been so much of the family’s life.

“They are in harness every day. They’re used for winter feeding the cattle with the sleigh or a rubber-tired wagon. Every day they are working,” said son Neil.

Now, Neil and his parents will have to find less traditional ways to care for their 120 cows on their 10-quarter operation.

The horses have been in parades, funerals, and weddings. They have won prizes at every fair they attended and Bryden’s judging skills have taken him as far afield as the Royal Highland Show in Scotland. Students from the agricultural colleges toured the farm regularly to learn what makes a fine heavy horse.

After 55 years in the business, Jim Bryden said he was not looking forward to the trip from the house to the barn on the morning after the sale of his prized Clydes. He said maybe a mare and foal would find a place in his barn in the near future.

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