The British Heavy Horse Driving Trials Club was set up about 25 years ago and was largely the brainchild of Rowena McDermott and her husband John. Based in Hampshire, Rowena was born into a family of Percheron enthusiasts. Susan Dunne discovers more about about Driving Trials for the ever versatile heavy horse breeds.

Having taken 10 pairs abroad in 1999 to participate in a re-enactment of the historic Fish Run from Boulogne to Paris to help raise the profile of the Boulonnais horse, they went on to form the club with a small nucleus of like-minded people.

The problem of preserving the heavy breeds and their rich agricultural heritage is one which every heavy horse enthusiast faces. With many native and heavy breeds classed as endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and some like the Suffolk Punch as critically endangered, finding a role for them in the contemporary world is crucial. Rowena says: “There are still quite a few heavy horses being bred for the show ring but in reality only a small number are successful, so then there’s the question of what do you do with them? “ Driving trials can be one way to keep these horses active as well as providing a means to having fun with fellow enthusiasts.

In the early days of the Club it wasn’t all plain sailing as Rowena explains: “We faced a lot of resistance to the idea initially, especially from the old guard who thought you couldn’t possibly do driving trials with heavy horses. In fact heavy horses can do just as much as light harness horses if they are fit. And then people were afraid that they’d flatten everything in sight so we started holding our own events. Some people were horrified at the thought of them cantering because of fears that once they’d done that you’d never get them to slow down.” Rowena and John have proved quite successfully that this won’t necessarily happen as Rowena says: “We do demonstrations in the summer with a two-ton fire engine and of course fire engines are meant to be driven at speed so we always put in a gallop to thrill the crowd. On the other hand John has no problem using the same horses for ploughing which is done at a slow walk.”

You can read the full article in the April issue of Carriage Driving. To purchase a copy, contact our Subscriptions Team: 01722 716997.

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You can find out more about the British Heavy Horse Driving Trials Club on their Facebook page or their website