The American Cream Draft Horse
“A native breed America can be proud of.”
by Carol Pshigoda, Bend, OR
The American Cream Draft is finally holding its own in the world of horses. It does not really matter if you have an eye for the original farm style draft, the tall and lean hitch style draft, or something in between, I believe most horsemen with a discerning eye will embrace America’s own draft breed with the same appreciation the true draft horseman of the Midwest did in the 20’s and 30’s.
Like many breeds its inception was the vision of a handful of horsemen who knew they had something different, and just like Justin Morgan knew he had something unique with his stallion, Figure, they set out to prove it. It is truly amazing that some 70 years later, with today’s genetic technology that was then unheard of, they were proven right in their assumption of being part of the dawning of a new draft breed.
In the August, 1984, issue of Smithsonian magazine, Ridgeway Shinn of the then AMBC (American Minor Breeds Conservancy), now the ALBC, (American Livestock Breeds Conservancy), reported finding only 20 some Creams in existence at that time, thus declaring them “virtually extinct.” The registry had not met in years. Horses had not been registered for a long time.
In the beginning, Creams were primarily located in Iowa. The strength of their comeback is evidence of their appeal. Registered Creams are now in over 25 states, farming successfully, competing in hitch and halter classes, and making an impact in the draft horse market with their high demand and the lure of saving a beautiful rare American farming treasure.
It has taken a lot of patience over the last 15 years, but Creams are now listed at many West Coast State Fairs, and independent West Coast draft shows with the Oregon State Fair leading the way about 9 years ago. The Creams came and would not go away. The crowds love America’s golden horse. They love the underdogs, as the Cream has sometimes been, amidst the well known and more common draft breeds.
In 1985, when this author first heard about American Creams from a teamster who was helping her rehabilitate a Percheron mare, it was next to impossible to find information on the breed. A burning desire to show the deep gratitude I felt for the passing of the lines to another generation led me to seek out this breed, as they had been Fay Pishion’s favorite breed while farming with his horses in the Midwest decades ago. This search led me to find that a man named C.T. Rierson, of Sioux Falls, Iowa, had purchased a number of the Cream colored draft horses at sales in the late 20’s and early 30’s. They captured his affections so much so that he started tracing their lineage. Every one of them went back to one draft mare affectionately named, “Old Granny.” This mare was purchased at auction by her owner so her ancestry was unknown, but what is known is that she was all draft, sported the pink skin, amber eyes, expressive head and conformation her get, and Creams to come, would be known for.
At that time 5 other Hardin County horsemen worked together doing selective line breeding to establish the breed. The selected foundation stallions were a good farm size at 16H and 2,000 to 2,200 pounds. With this breeds pink skin, that tans on their muzzle and around their eyes to gray, amber eyes, that are white at birth, set off by a rich creamy yellow coat and white mane and tail, the breed became instantly popular commanding high prices in the 30’s and 40’s.
The original Secretary of the registry, Karene Bunker-Topp penned the breed’s early history in the 40’s at the age of 16. At my interview in 1986, she was still holding the treasured records. A point of note in her records and history was that these breeders only saw the pink skin and amber eyed Creams as worthy of the American Cream Draft stamp of approval; As “breeding our American Creams to dark skinned palomino drafts results in a too light, almost albino animal.”
Exacting records were kept on this breed, and the original history explained that with breeding Cream to Cream the desirable cream foal rate was 99 to 100%, while the out breeding of Creams to other drafts to increase the gene pool did not produce as good of results, usually only a 50% Cream foal rate was achieved. With these statistics in mind it was C.T.’s desire to close the registry in the early 50’s. This motion was passed at a regular Association meeting, but apparently not followed after his untimely death shortly thereafter.
The 1950’s saw the greatest decline in heavy horse use in the history of horse farming. The Great Draft Horse Depression of the late 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s waved its black wand over all breeds causing the near demise of all the heavy horse breeds, while the saddle horse industry grew by leaps and bounds during this time. With the “back to the earth” movement of the late 60’s and 70’s the romance of working with horses was slowly reborn, helped along by books like “Horse Power,” by Frank Lessiter, and farming publications like the “Small Farmer’s Journal,” first published in 1976, (followed by many training books put out by SFJ for the driving student), and the “Rural Heritage,” first published in 1976. These new publications saw their beginnings in educating a generation who lost out on the heavy horse world.
During this time many breeds of heavy horse found themselves in need of serious help. The Suffolk was not only in trouble here in the US with less than 100 horses, but also in their homeland across the Atlantic as well. The Shire was also facing the threat of extinction, and with the help of selective infusion of Clydesdale blood is making a comeback, though it is still listed on the endangered breeds list along with the Creams and the Suffolk Punch.
It has been difficult for some to recognize the American Cream Draft Horse for what it is, a distinctive draft breed, so proven by 10 years of genetic studies at the University of Kentucky. This is mostly due to its beginnings being just before this dark period in draft horse history. The studies have also shown that this breed is not a color breed anymore than a Fresian, Fjord, or a Suffolk is.
The Cream has fought back with the same undaunted spirit that Americans all over are known for. This breed has captured the hearts of people everywhere, and there are just not enough to go around. When this author became a member of the American Cream Draft Horse Association (ACDHA) there were only a handful of members. At shows announcers would read a history stating breed numbers at only 20, then 40, then 60 horses. Now there are close to 300 registered horses, with at least another 200+ in the Amish and farming communities across this land. Many times a year I get e-mails and letters with pictures asking if what they have is a Cream, and 90% of the time it is.
During the downfall of the Drafts there were 3 to 4 breeders who continued to breed registered stock, but did not register their animals. Many horses went to sales and out to farms without the owners knowing what they had. We have spent the better part of the last 10 years seeking out these horses.
Most breeders today are dedicated to producing the 15.2H to 17H, 1,600 to 2,000 pound Cream that is short coupled, sporting an expressive head with wide set eyes, small well shaped ears, strong shoulder, wide chest, well rounded hindquarters, all supported by well boned legs. These horses are big barreled, not leggy, achieving an excellent point of draft for all purposes. Their white eyes at birth that change to amber, and their long beautiful manes and tails, a trait that C.T. Rierson loved and fought for as a distinctive part of their uniqueness, make up the package that is the American Cream Draft Horse.
There has always been a bond throughout time between mankind and the horse that transcends common explanation. There has also been that part of us that is fiercely proud of what we produce, or own, especially when that object is set apart and uncommonly unique. With that in mind, the ACDH is to the draft horse world what the ‘57 Chevy is to the car world: all chrome, beauty, elegant lines and just not enough to go around… yet!
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