Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dairy farmers take hobby to World Clydesdale Show

Dustin and Brian Brooks
Grandpa liked the horses. So does Dad. No wonder then that Dustin and Brian Brooks have continued the tradition of breeding Clydesdale horses from their dairy farm near Sparta. Four years ago the brothers began to prepare for the World Clydesdale Show recently held in Madison.

The preparation paid off in the World Show competition. With Dustin handling the reins, Brookside Farm Clydesdale gathered an impressive display of ribbons including more than one first-place class finish. Considering the level of competition at the World Clydesdale Show, the Brooks brothers were enjoying the satisfaction that comes with being a serious hobby operation in an arena full of professionals.

"There's a real sense of accomplishment competing with some of these other farms," Brian said of the World Clydesdale Show. "And there's the tradition with Clydesdales."

The tradition began with their grandfather, who purchased a pair of Clydesdale horses to do farm work, and he fell in love with the breed. Today, the farm is home to 10 head and is set to grow.

"We got rid of all of our geldings to concentrate on working with mares for this show," Dustin said. "Five of them are pregnant."

The orange barn colors are a deliberate choice too. Brian noted that the family wanted something different and in looking around the business, the Brooks didn't see any other orange colors. Orange also stands out vividly in the show-ring.

Hobbies can get out of hand, especially a big hobby like Clydesdale horses. Brookside Farm competes all season long, but they have some limits.

"About the farthest we go is northern Illinois. We go to the Boone County Fair in Belvidere and we do some parades, exhibitions and once in a while a wedding," Dustin said. "We go about as far as we can on a tank of gas. That's kind of the limit."

The occasional prize winnings, a few paid gigs and the sale of horses help cover expenses. Since Clydesdale horses are so large and take expensive equipment, it's no wonder markets recently have softened. Brian said more people are looking at the breed for riding and there's growing interest in crossbreeding to create animals that compete in events such as dressage and jumping.

"We're also seeing more people who look to buy a mature team they can take home, hitch up and go for a drive," Brian said. "They might only drive a couple of times a year for a family hay ride or ride around the farm so they aren't interested in high-strung show horses."

Dustin does most of the driving in competition. He said he prefers the challenge of driving teams with a single lead horse. A team is two horses side by side pulling a wagon. Add a third horse hitched in front of the first two and you have a hitch called a unicorn with a single lead horse.

"When you have horses hitched side by side they have each other. If one decides to do something on its own it has to convince the other horse too so they tend to keep each other together," Dustin said. "When you have a single horse in the lead, if it decides to turn around or do something, all kinds of things can start to happen."

Managing the herd of Clydesdales sounds much like managing dairy cows.

"Every day their pens are cleaned, they're brushed and exercised, fed and worked with," Brian said. "After the season we'll pull the shoes and they'll go out on pasture and we let them have some time off."
Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes and a Clydesdale hobby falls into the larger side of the ledger.

"It's like a full-time job on top of a full-time job," Dustin says. "But this is our vacation and time off. This is our boat."

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