The draft horse gets its forename from Old English, from the Dutch and German languages. The guttural appellations meant “haul”, “draw” and “carry” – indicators of distant blood lines that partnered with the working man in long-forgotten fields and roads.
The muscles of the draft horse are broad and patient. They are built for slow and tedious jobs. They are not curving and shapely, like a Baroque violin. The bodies of the Frisians and Lipizzaners are coiled and sturdy, but their blood is a heady mixture of draft and Andalusian, Barbary or Destrier. Frisians were dark and made of muscular silk; the Lipizzaner dated to an 18th century studbook as exclusive as any gentleman’s club; Andalusians were compact vessels of barely contained fire; the Destrier quartered its ancestry with the crests of knights it carried into war or the jousting stage.
In the competitions at fairs I enjoy watching the draft horses pulling coaches in tandem with shine and power, pockets of dust raised around the steel crescents of their hooves. The earth shakes with the buried energy pounded by over 1500 pounds of domesticated flesh. They move with a substantial, physical grace. Bridles and harness shake in dainty, metallic tremors – the teams of workers detached from their plows to go on holiday.
Later, I’m able to visit these gentle laborers in their stables. I admire their serene nobility, and I tell them so. I brush my hand against the lavender velvet of their muzzles, and place it against their cheeks, carefully tracing the spiral tread of hair. Usually their mane and tails are unraveled, but sometimes they are still wound with ribbons and flowers. But no treatment affects their dignified calm, their dark, evocative eyes.
However, when they shake their heads with a rare bout of impatience, and I hear their feathered ankles rustle the straw like restless birds, I know that it’s time to move away. But I always wait, hoping for another visit.
Because they are old souls, evocative of a loving history. And it would be an honor to speak with them again.