Hitch For Huttons Is Symbol of Joy And Integrity
by Tom Burriss
As far as draft horses go, the burden of a Percheron was more than just a load. Originally they were bred for war. Through history, they carried armored knights to battle and pulled cannons for Allied Forces in WWI, long before they began pulling a plow through the soil of the United States.
Developed as a cross between Flemish Drafts and Arabians, the offspring were of great size and stout demeanor.
A Memphis man has brought this aspect of nobility not only to his farm, but also to the image of his business.
Henry and Lisa Hutton are the owners of a six up hitch of black Percheron geldings. These animals have become a recognizable trademark to car sales in the Memphis- area.
According to Henry, these horses are full of integrity, calmness, and gentleness, "and that is the same image we want to reflect with our business. They are a symbol of American roots and an honest days work."
The Percheron hitch serves for more than just a marketing tool. They are a common site and many Memphis-area community events and parades. They have served as a transport for Joseph and Mary at church, carolling, and auctioned afternoons with the hitch are used to raise funds for charities such as the Memphis Museum of Art or the Collierville Humane Society.
One thing is for sure though, the Huttons never rent or lease the hitch. It is donated on a limited basis. With his eyes sparkling, Henry says, "I just enjoy it for show and tell."
Although a joy to have and show, these magnificent beasts require an extraordinary amount of care and attention. There are six geldings each standing eighteen hands and averaging over 2,000 pounds. Approximately seventy-five pounds of crimped oats and five bales of hay are used each day to satiate the hitch. They have very fragile digestive systems, even more so than horses normally do.
"You really have to be on time with them and they need to be fed properly," added Henry.
They are regulated on their pastures too. They get twelve hours in stalls and twelve hours out in the pasture everyday. When they are in or out depends on the season. During the summer they are in during the day time. In the winter they are out during the day.
Seasons bring up another aspect to their care: their shoes. With a summer season and a parade season, the Huttons' farrier, Jim Addams of West Memphis, cares for their feet.
In the summer while they spend most of their time in the stall and in the pasture, they get plain round shoes.
During parade season the shoes are adjusted to compensate for the added impact of body weight and hard surfaces.
"The blood flow per body weight is less than that of a quarter horse."
For this reason, they will get a Modified Scotch shoe with the addition of a cleat.
Jumping up in the drivers seat in no easy chore either. For that a definite amount of training is involved, especially since the driver will have three lines in each hand.
Henry spent a great deal of time training with the driver of the HJ Heinz hitch, Brian Craig. Together they spent many hours teaching Henry the finer points of driving the hitch. When it was all said and done, Henry was good enough to be invited to help drive the Heinz hitch. In addition to driving they also learned how to get the hitch up and running more quickly. What had previously taken them three hours to hook up the hitch, now was down to forty-two minutes at the end of six day training Session.
Lisa drives too, but she does not drive more than a two up hitch.
What has become a keen sense of enjoyment for the Huttons was really not even a twinkle prior to the introduction with their first horse Jett.
Lisa and Henry were both raised in the Memphis area and started riding during their childhood. After marrying, they had to put the horses aside for the sake of children and expenses. They have both renewed their affiliation with riding, since all of the children have been sent to college. Both are currently ranked nationally in the NCHA.
While at a fair Lisa saw a Percheron. She was immediately taken by him and began making inquiries, since she did not know much about them.
One of the questions was "Is he broke?" said Henry of the repartee between Lisa and the owner.
"Can I ride him?" she asked.
"I don't have a saddle," replied the owner.
"Well, is he broke or not then?"
So the owner pulled out the 18 plus hand horse and Lisa got a helping hand on to Jett's back. She went for a ride.
He was calm and ridable. In a word, "broke."
Before Henry knew it, Lisa was riding Jett up and down the fairway with a small following in tow.
A connection was made between horse and future owner. That is how they came to purchase Jett.
Not long after, he and Henry were to be apart of the WMC Channel 5-Memphis Christmas greeting card. For this they would have to go down a set of stairs into the studio and put himself in front of all the lights.
"Jett never flinched," recalls Henry. In fact he just followed Henry downstairs without a problem.
"We don't take any horse that is not fully mature and trained... they are all bomb proof."
They would have to be. It would be unimaginable to have such large animals in crowded areas with children, and then find out that one would bolt at the slam of a car door.
The other five were acquired from previous hitches as well, and therefore completely broke, mature and trained.
In fact the reason that a lot of the horses come available is because they may no longer be able to keep up with the rigors of a parade schedule or because physical constraints prevent them from fitting in with the hitch. If a horse is too short or tall, then the hitch will not run so smoothly because their gaits do not match.
While with the H.J. Heinz, Jett, Shane, John and Jake racked up some serious mileage. Between the four the y logged over 700,000 miles and made appearances at such events as the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Calgary Stampede.
All of the horses know their own names. Fred and Count came from competition hitches in Ohio, and Shane, John, and Jake came from H.J. Heinz in Pennsylvania.
Henry explained that it was absolutely necessary for them to know their names, because while driving the hitch commands are given individually in order to make the hitch operate smoothly.
They Huttons' hitch can be found in various arrangements from two to six "up" and pulling one of two carts.
One is a 1,700 blue wagon which is outfitted with rubber tires and will carry passengers. It only requires two horses to pull.
The other is a 5,000 pound refurbished freight wagon originally with the Coors Brewing Co. It had been built so true to fashion, that they thought that it was an 1800's original. They later came across someone who had seen the wagon build. Although it was build not that long ago, it was constructed in replica fashion as well. So it really does look authentic.
Whether or not the wagon is authentic or not probably does not make a huge difference. What does matter is the Hutton's being able to share and enjoy the Hitch. Henry never stopped smiling and beaming the whole time we were talking. I am sure he would be happy to share more of his story too.
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