By Tim Kalinowski
There is nothing quite like taking part in an arena show with your Percheron horses, says Judy Lucas, of Lucasia Ranch located near Claresholm, and nothing like seeing the looks on peoples’ faces when they view these beautiful horses stepping out together all in one stride.
“My husband Wayne’s dad actually bought the family’s first Percherons about 1968. When they decided they wanted draft horses it was between the Belgians and the Percherons, and the Percherons have a little bit more presence and step to them. People now are looking for something that steps up and has a real alert presence— very animated— they don’t like something that plods along.”
You have to have good stock first and foremost, but that will only get you about halfway toward having a successful show, concedes Lucas.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to do shows,” she states bluntly. “If you are going to do it right, you need to keep those horses out of the sun because they want black horses at the shows. They tend to turn a little bit brown if they are in the sun. They have to be fed properly. You have to take care of their feet. Most of these draft horses what they call their undercarriage is very important. So they are looking for really good feet and legs.
“It really takes all year to get ready for a show,” confirms Lucas, “ because those horses have to be driven constantly, and those horses have to be kept in the barn and pampered for quite some time before the show.”
Because of this, Lucasia Ranch has shifted its focus more toward the confirmation classes instead of the hitch classes over the years, says Lucas.
“The horses, let’s say a six-horse hitch, take about two hours to get ready on the day of the show,” Lucas explains. “They have to be washed twice a day when they are at the show. It’s quite time-consuming and you have to have good help. You have to have somebody roll the mane and braid into them the colour fabric you use, and they also braid their tails. They tie the tales up and dress them up with little sprigs to make them look good.”
Lucas is proud of the quality of Lucasia Ranch’s Percheron breeding stock, and she loves the disposition of these gentle giants. However, until the last decade or so when new markets for live draft horse exports opened up in Japan, it wasn’t exactly a money-making endeavour, she admits.
“It’s a lot easier to sell draft horses than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” she confirms. “Back then, you could hardly give them away, and they only had value to breeders and show people. For years and years it was an expensive hobby, so to speak. But ranchers and breeders tend to survive on very little to do the things that they love. Now there is quite a demand.”
To supplement their income from their small calf-cow operation and horse breeding endeavours, Lucasia Ranch, up until last June, offered spring ranch vacations for a mostly European clientele. But the death of Wayne in 2017 followed by Judy’s illness made it difficult to continue.
“We couldn’t afford to stay in business or afford to buy the ranch from Wayne’s parents unless we did something different,” recalls Lucas. “That’s why we did the ranch vacations, and it worked well for us for 23 years. Our clientele was 80 per cent from Europe and came back constantly. And they also loved the draft horses. Everybody loved to go out and take pictures of them in the hills.”
Lucas says her son Brett has been handed the reins to the family’s 250 head cow-calf operation and its 20-mare Percheron breeding business, and now will have his own decisions to make on how to keep the ranch going through good times and bad.
“We are staying in this business, but we are going to try to go a little more into irrigation to try and grow more of our own at home,” Lucas explains. “Last year, the drought brought high prices of hay to a lot of agriculture, and that about broke a lot of people.”
“We are trying to diversify a little more,” states Lucas. “Since we no longer have the ranch vacations, we have to come up with something else.”
Lucas says despite the hard work and challenges there is a gentility to the ranching lifestyle which makes it all worth it in the end.
“We’re very fortunate,” she says. “You see all the city people heading out Fridays with their trailers and their motorhomes. We have never really done that because you just have to walk into the back yard. It’s the peace and serenity of living in God’s country.
“We are into fowl as a family,” she adds. “I have a lot of ducks and geese, and you hear them constantly out here. It is a very peaceful thing to go and sit with them if you have a stressful day. You just sit down among the trees and listen. There is a real sense of ease here.
“This business is what you call cash-poor, but you have the land as your legacy,” she explains. “And you live on the land. That is more important to us: You have that land rather than all the money.”