There aren’t many people whose job description includes washing the hoofs of Belgian horses. Yet, for Kyle Forsyth, it’s all part of a day’s work.
Forsyth is the manager of the six-horse-hitch team for Country Lane Belgians of Sunderland, Ont., where he grooms, trains and prepares Belgian horses to compete in shows across North America.
His most recent and most important competition of 2012, the North American Belgian Championships in Brandon July 17-21, was a homecoming for Forsyth because he grew up on horse ranch near Virden, Man.
“My family had a PMU (pregnant mares’ urine) operation and when I was really little, they showed hackney and road horses,” he said as he washed horses’ hoofs and lower legs in preparation for an evening show at the championships, which is held every four years and is the premier show for Belgian horse breeders and owners in North America.
“But by the time I was much of age to help they had switched to Clydesdales.”
After a year of university in Brandon, Forsyth was offered a chance in 2005, through a family contact, to work at a training centre in Oklahoma for handling draft horses.
While working at the centre, Forsyth met a man from Missouri who needed six Clydesdales trained for his daughter’s wedding.
“We trained those for the wedding and (after) he decided he wanted to start showing. He actually bought a six-horse hitch from my family,” Forsyth said, as he scrubbed a horse’s foreleg in the washing stalls at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.
The horse owner from Missouri needed someone to train the horses for shows, which is how Forsyth wound up working, full-time, with draft horses.
“I went to work for him and made a career out of it.”
Forsyth’s skill with draft horses also fulfilled another aspect of his life. He met his wife, Marcia, who grew up on a ranch in Iowa, on the draft horse circuit and the two now work together at Country Lane Belgians.
Ted English, who owns a milk transport company in Ontario and runs Country Lane Belgians, said he began showing draft horses about eight years ago.
English initially bought a couple of horses to pull old-fashioned milk wagons, which evolved into showing six-horse hitches at prestigious shows.
He loves the horses, the people and the competition but admitted it is an expensive hobby.
“We have two full-time people working with the horses,” he said, while watching a team of six people prepare his hitch for competition in Brandon.
“On this road trip (we’re) gone for the better part of a month…. We’re very fortunate to win the Calgary Stampede, we got $10,000 prize money for winning that. But this trip will likely cost us $35,000 and we might get $10,000 or $15,000 in prize money.”
It may be pricey pastime, but it’s not a lot different from collecting antique cars or owning standardbred horses, two of English’s other hobbies.
The team colour for Country Lane Belgians was inspired by the light blue paint of a 1955-56 Chevrolet.
Many of the competitors at draft horse shows run family farms, where they breed horses and show the animals as a sideline.
However, there are also competitors on the circuit, such as Country Lane Belgians, who hire staff to train and drive the horses. Since this is his profession, Forsyth said there is pressure to perform at competitions like the North American Championships.
But after managing draft horse teams for a number of years, he’s realized that preparation and confidence is the best way to deal with high expectations.
“Of course there’s some pressure, just like anything. Anybody that’s trying to be successful at an athletic sport like this … you’ve got to have confidence when you get on the wagon.”