- Do the horses like to work?
We cannot ask them directly but they do let us know how they are feeling in different ways:
Like people, horses love a purpose and a routine. This is evident in our horses because when it comes the time that they usually go to work they stand by the tack room and wait for their harness to be put on. One can tell the expressions of a horse by watching their ear position. When our horses are working they have an alert and forward ear position which indicates general happiness.
Draft horses have been used for so many generations to pull that it seems to be instinctual. When we first put a young one in a harness they naturally lean into the collar and pull on their own. Like people, it’s very important for horses to get exercise, so their work pulling sleighs makes their heart, lungs, and muscles strong and healthy.
- Do the horses get cold?
So long as a horse is dry they can handle temperatures down to -40 degrees!
The coldest it usually gets is only -5 to -10 degrees Celsius in Whistler so our horses never get cold. However, when it is cold they do well because they have such massive bodies they can easily keep the heat in. They also grow long thick winter coats that are so insulating they can be covered with snow and it won’t melt!
If our horses ever get sweaty, when working, the first thing they do when the harness comes off is roll in the snow to dry off. Blanketing a draft horse is not necessary. However, we do have horse blankets, on hand, just in case we think they are chilled. Their feet also never get cold even standing in the snow because the outer wall of their hoof is a thick material that doesn’t have any feeling, much like our fingernails.
- How long do horses live?
Horses age three times faster than humans. So they can start training when they are three and work until they are about twenty or twenty-five. They can live until they are thirty or thirty-five years.
- Can you ride the draft horses?
You can and we do for the fun of it and to get them some exercise, but they are not built for speed but for power. If you want to ride far and fast you need a smaller type of horse weighing about 1,000 pounds.
- How much do the horses eat?
In 24 hours each draft horse eats about 40 pounds of hay and drinks 15 to 20 gallons of water. When they are working more we supplement with grain to give them a burst of energy. They also really enjoy treats like apples and carrots and get these when they are working.
Our horses are happiest when on a “special ration’ and are fed at the same time every day. We discourage people from feeding our horse because ‘overfeeding’ can make them sick. We appreciate it when people ask us first if they can feed them – thanks for that.
- Is the sleigh hard for the horses to pull?
The horses pull the sleigh by pushing their shoulders into the padded collar while they walk. They like pulling the sleigh. The sleigh is on four thin metal runners that glide on the snow much like an ice skate on ice. Once the sleigh is moving it is very easy for the horses to pull.
- Are the horses friendly to people?
They love to be petted, brushed, handled, and fed by people and they do learn to recognize us. Horses are very intelligent and often rely on body language to communicate – human body language is easily sensed by horses. If you are fearful the horse senses this and in return, this makes him fearful of you. Horses are like people in many ways – they all have their little quirks and personalities.
However, they are a herd animal by nature so their best buddies are usually other horses, especially their teammate.
- Is the harness heavy for the horses?
The harness seems heavy to us, especially when we are trying to lift it onto their giant backs as it weighs about 50 pounds. But because the horses are so big it is easy for them to carry, much like us wearing our clothes.