Big riders mean big horses on Western trails

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 24, 2014 at 10:33 am •  Published: April 24, 2014
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"Little horses just aren't sturdy enough to hold up in a dude operation in the Rocky Mountains," Kipp Saile said, noting that about 15 of their 60 horses were Percheron mixes, the largest weighing 1,800 pounds.

At Sombrero in Estes Park, Colo., general manager Bryan "Kansas" Seck said they began making the transition to draft horses years ago because of rugged mountainous terrain and strength to carry a rider for longer periods of time.

But the larger horses also allowed them to eliminate their weight limit. The heaviest rider Seck ever put on a horse was 399 pounds.

"As long as you can get on a horse, you can ride," he said.

Laura Ewing of Baltimore noted that the horses back East are small and she was somewhat concerned when she arrived at Sombrero to go on a ride with her 6-year-old son, Alex.

"Because I'm a little heavier I rode a larger horse," Ewing said. "I was a little bit concerned at first, but when I saw the size of the horses that they have here, they're pretty hardy horses ... They're not ponies."

Another rider, who weighed 240 pounds, rode 1,800-pound Bam Bam, a brown Belgian draft horse with furry legs and a size 5 horseshoes — the smaller, traditional quarter-horses of about 1,000 pounds wear a 0 to 1. They rode up the trails dotted with elk, deer and chipmunks and breathtaking views of Longs Peak.

Like Little, the Sailes prefer Percheron draft horses because of their easygoing dispositions. However, larger horses are more expensive. They eat more, require larger doses of medications and at about $150 cost twice as much to put horseshoes on.

But unlike regular-sized riding horses that have seven months off after the tourist season, Little said, Percheron mixes can work most of the year, carrying elk and moose hunters into the backcountry in the fall and pulling wagons with tourists in the winter.

"You just feel better about having a big person on a big horse," Little said.

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Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda in Estes Park, Colo., contributed to this report.