On yet another snowy morning here, I take hope from my friend Jim’s email that spring is coming. A plowing match invitation arrived for Jim, and he is looking forward to getting out with his six-Haflinger hitch once again. Jim spends most weekends during the good-weather-months taking his six to events. Mostly the events are about plowing, and the circle of friends that are involved in the Northern Illinois Draft Horse and Mule Association have a phenomenal schedule. Jim claims they do it mostly for fun, but I know there are broader benefits beyond enjoyment and getting work done.
My husband was watching a TV show a few days before the Superbowl that was a contest between various Superbowl ads from the past. In the end, the first place commercial featured the Budweiser Clydesdales, and second place also featured these draft horses. Isn’t it something that horses were featured in the top ads? Not artificial monsters, not high tech special effects, not human beings doing violent things, but flesh-and-blood horses? And isn’t it something that it was draft horses?
Earlier this week I read an article about a business school that is teaching its students how to incorporate happiness into the marketing of products and brands. “The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful,” says marketing professor Jennifer Aaker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.” Maybe the success of the Budweiser Clydesdale ads is a triumph of marketing by creating a sense of happiness. I prefer, however, to look at it differently.
Earlier this week I also read an article about a young man who was drawn to the world of working horses by the Budweiser Clydesdales. Here is a different sort of endorsement of this hitch; it has less to do with happiness and more, I believe, to do with hope. These words from the late draft and driving horse trainer Steve Bowers come to mind: In this world that has been highly polluted in many ways with the machines of men, one sparkling glimmer of hope is the person who has useful work for horses, and knows how to train for that work with uncommon skill… (from A Teamster’s View: More and Different, Bowers Farm, Fort Collins, Colorado, p. 200.)
I think one of the things that people appreciate about the Budweiser ads and about watching draft horses in general is that they inspire hope: that there are ways to get things done that are more harmonious than the norm. And in these times, inspiring hope about the future is definitely a good thing. So when Jim’s words about plowing arrived, and the hope of spring came to mind, I also thought of the bystanders that attend the plowing events at which Jim works his hitch. I would guess those bystanders aren’t there for reasons of marketing; they are there for reasons of hope. They appreciate what Jim and the other teamsters are doing and how they are doing it. We as draft horse teamsters, above other types of horsemen, have an uncommon opportunity when with our horses. By putting them to useful work, and doing it well, we make the future look brighter for any and all that may be watching. And maybe we can attract more people to working with our draft breeds, too!
© Jenifer Morrissey