Kristen Kovatch shares a behind-the-scenes look at Alfred University’s holiday video, featuring two of the school’s largest (literally) stars.
It’s hard to imagine anything more than the gratitude and joy experienced when riding a horse–except perhaps for the indescribable swelling of my spirit when I work with Belgian team, who not only have the courage and faith to carry me on their back should I ask them but also the heart and strength to throw into their collars and pull me, a wagon, and countless emotions as well. Who can resist? Passersby are always drawn into their spell; cars on the road will slow down or stop, their drivers gaping with shining eyes as my boys trot past, chains and bells ringing, ears and eyes pointed forward, heads high. There’s just something about a draft team.
I spent last weekend working with Rocky and Randy and two students to prepare the team for starring roles in the University’s holiday video. I had a few spare moments to snag some photos along the way.
Draft team regalia can get pretty complicated and ornate–the tail buns are intended to show off the horse’s hind end, but we mostly use our tail buns as a place to include some Alfred spirit in purple and gold. Braiding the tail bun is a two-person job since there’s no way I’ve figured out yet to get everything neat and tidy with anything less than four hands, a pull-through, a roll of white twine and a couple of zip ties. This is Randy’s particularly fine hind end in this photo.
The mane rolls are a similarly involved process involving an eight-foot-long band in team colors that gets “rolled” right into the mane along the crest. About six inches in front of where the collar sits, the mane roll stops with the tails hanging; at this point a better-outfitted team than my own would also get rosettes added (the little flags or flowers, also in coordinating colors.) Some teamsters will sit right on their horses’ backs to roll the mane; I can get away with standing on a mounting block beside my boys. We’re looking at Rocky’s mane in this picture.
Usually when driving an event on campus, we actually drive the team all the way from the equestrian center–but for this cold day with an early sunset, we trailered instead and were able to take over the campus inn’s parking lot for a few hours. In a show setting we would include collar housings, decorations that attach to the front of the collar and rise a few feet over the horse. For the campus video, the show harness itself was enough ornamentation, especially when we added a rich and resonant string of bells to each horse. Randy stands on the left and Rocky on the right.
And, of course, every team needs a coach dog: my border collie Sage “helped” one of the students decorate the wagon while the other student helped me harness. Sage loves to ride in the wagon, firmly believing that her job is to ride up front with the drivers and feel the wind in her hair.
Hours of preparation, decoration and grunt work culminated in the annual holiday video–the first appearance of the equestrian program in such a production and hopefully not the last. Judging from the reactions of the various students who saw us along the way, Rocky and Randy have permanently worked their way into the hearts of campus.
Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team and teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving. She has shown reined cow horse, reining, western pleasure, and draft horses, as well as dabbled in hunt seat equitation. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins and Ranch and Reata.