Man prepares Clydesdale horses for show

8:26 AM, Jan 3, 2011   |    comments
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One might say Sarah is a bit of a workhorse; an eight-year-old Clydesdale draft horse, to be exact.

Sarah and her yearling, Finnegan, are just two of the draft horses found at Clydesdale Corners in Wellington, a farm owned by former investigator Curtis Bridges.

The 64-year-old began raising Clydesdales in 1982 when he and his wife, Kathy, owned a farm on Lookout Mountain in Golden while Bridges worked with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

It wasn't until seven years ago that Bridges decided to move up north and make Clydesdale Corners his full-time job.

Bridges will show Sarah and a 2-year-old stallion named Ozzie at the Big Thunder draft horse show from Jan. 14-16 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds & Events Complex, and then at the National Western Stock Show Jan. 8-23 with the draft horse show happening Jan. 21-23.

Anyone familiar with commercials for Budweiser beer is also probably familiar with the Budweiser Clydesdales that majestically glide across the landscape pulling a wagon in full draft horse tack.

The look of a Clydesdale at a draft show is very similar, and the preparation that goes into making the horses look presentable begins at least a month in advance.

First, the horses are fitted with shoes and pads, which are roughly the size of dinner plates. Bridges then grooms Sarah and Ozzie every day, making sure the feathering -the white tufts of fur surrounding the hooves - is properly kempt and as bright as possible.

"You just don't do all this the day before a show," Bridges said. "It's a process."

And then comes the mane. A Clydesdale's mane is braided for show, but it must be at the proper length and thickness. Bridges combs the horses' manes and thins them out with a razor brush about a week before the show.

And then comes the exercise.

"I've been taking (Sarah) out a couple times a week to build up her stamina," Bridges said.

Sarah is being shown in the single-cart competition where she will carry a small, two-wheeled cart with one or two riders, and the halter class competition where Sarah will be shown groomed and wearing a show harness. Ozzie is being shown only in halter class where Bridges said the stallion's impeccable breeding will come in handy.

"Ozzie has what you would call the best breeding for a Clydesdale," Bridges said.

At the age of 2, Ozzie is still a bit too green to be a great show horse, Bridges said. Three is the earliest a horse should be in tough competition.

"It'd be like giving a 14-year-old kid the keys to your car," Bridges said.

Even though he doesn't work for Budweiser, Bridges said he visited all six locations where Budweiser keeps its teams of Clydesdales to view the design of the barns and learn what he could about keeping Clydesdales. Bridges used to keep a team of Clydesdales and work for Channel 4 News in Denver where he and a four-horse team marched in parades and appeared in commercials.

Now, the stable consists of four Clydesdales who are raised mostly for breeding, showing and pulling carriages for weddings. And, Bridges said, that's all the work he can handle since he runs the operation himself these days.

"The problem is if you're doing a one-man band, it's difficult to do too much," Bridges said. "When we were doing parades, we had about four people (working for us)."

Though Sarah is three months pregnant, Bridges said she will be working well into June, when she'll be nine months into an 11-month pregnancy. But, the mare is certainly built well enough to withstand even the hardest work in her condition. She stands at 18.1 hands high (6-foot-1) at the withers and weighs 2,100 pounds.

"It's better for her to get out there and get exercise," Bridges said. "You can't do real heavy stuff the last couple of months, but doing the stock show now, at three months, that's fine."

Bridges wasn't expecting to breed Sarah so soon after her first foal, but when Bridges and his wife went on a trip to Michigan in 2009, some interesting developments were happening back at Clydesdale Corners.

"Last September, we went back to my high school reunion and our stallion broke through the fences ... so, (Sarah's) now expecting in August (2011)," Bridges said.

Just another day on the farm at Clydesdale Corners.

Written by Lindsey Larson, Fort Collins Coloradoan.

(Copyright © 2011 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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