Horses, breeding among topics for Organic Farming Conference set for Mt. Hope

The beauty of breeds and the power of the Cleveland Bay / Yorkshire Coach horse will be a hot topic presented by David Bontrager at the Organic Farming Conference set for Mt. Hope’s Event Center November 8 – 9.

Bontrager, from LaGrange, Indiana, has 22 years of experience in breeding trotting horses and will share about why the plain communities need to breed their own carriage horses. He will also delve a little into linebreeding. The practice is the mating of related animals with the goal of retaining and stabilizing certain desired traits within an animal group. The secondary goal is to reveal and eliminate undesired traits within the animal group.

Bontrager’s breeding objective is a horse with the power and the endurance of the Cleveland Bay/Yorkshire Coach. According to old records, this horse could sustainably trot 18 miles within the hour pulling a loaded carriage.

The Cleveland Bay is a British warmblood. It is one of the oldest breeds around, much older than the Standardbred, and probably quite a bit older even than the Thoroughbred. The breed was probably sprung originally from workhorses brought to England by the Romans. Once established, it remained isolated in Yorkshire, where it developed a pure genetic stability unmatched by most breeds. The result was a horse with extraordinary strength, endurance, weight-pulling ability, and a docile temperament.

During England’s hayday of carriage horses late in the 19th century, it was a common thing to cross a Cleveland Bay mare with a strong-boned Thoroughbred. The result was called the Yorkshire Coach Horse. The Yorkshire Coach was a tall, upstanding animal of tremendous presence. It was in great demand in London, and on the Continent where the nobility, gentry, and courts of Europe vied with each other for the showiest team. During the height of the London season, hundreds of pairs of these magnificent animals might be seen in Hyde Park every afternoon.

According to Bontrager, these teams had presence and style, but not necessarily because they were bred for presence and style. At least that is not what the genetic foundation of the breed rested upon. They had presence and style as a result of many centuries of aggressively pursuing strength and stamina in the breeding choices that were made. In other words, form followed function and resulted in beauty. David believes this rule to be basically true for all breeds of livestock. Form should always follow function.

After coal was discovered in England, people learned how to use it. As towns and cities came to be, they needed coal. In pre-railroad days great loads needed to be hauled from the mines to the cities. They needed to be delivered in the fastest ways possible, which meant horses were needed that could draw heavy loads fast and far. The Cleveland Bay and its offspring, the Yorkshire Coach, fit the bill.

“The Standardbred racing industry kept us well supplied with driving horses all the years since the coming of the automobile,” Bontrager said. “There was no pressing need to breed our own drivers. But the harness racing industry is not what it used to be. It is an ailing industry, propped up either by direct government subsidies or by government-sanctioned gambling casinos.”

He explained that the need now is to breed and raise horses within the Plain Community. “In my opinion, even with ethics aside, we never should have quit breeding our own horses,” Bontrager said. “We need better animals than the ones produced by the racing industry.”

He noted the need for a horse that will trot a mile in under two minutes which equals out to be about 33 miles per hour while pulling a light racing hack and driver is much different from the horse needed by Plain Communities. A horse that can trot great distances at about 20 mph while pulling a loaded buggy is a need. “And yes, it will require a tall horse with tremendous lung capacity, long forearms, and short, strong cannon bones,” he said.

Borntrager explained that a lack of young horses is driving up the price of horses in general. “I do not expect this to change a whole lot anytime soon,” he said. “This is a time of opportunity for breeders of driving horses to pursue function over form—and expect to receive fair prices for the results.”

And while the need is real, the prices for the same seem anything but reachable, but Borntrager says, “After 22 years of raising foals, I am fully convinced, today’s prices are not too high.”

The fourth annual Organic Farming Conference is coming November 8 – 9 to Mt. Hope.
For more information call 330-674-1892 or e-mail info@organicfarmingconf.com. Information online can be found at www.organicfarmingconf.com.