Farm Horizons, November 2008

Plato family’s Clydesdales are ‘flashy’

Linda SchStaff Wr

Anyone seeing the Clydesdale horses used in advertising Budweiser beer will know exactly what the Stuedemann family’s draft horses look like.

The Plato family, which includes three generations of family members, not only raise Clydesdales, but restore unique antique horse-drawn wagons pulled by the horses in various events.

Wilton and Betty, their son Dan, and Dan’s daughters, Paige, 16, and Brooke, 12, are proud to share hundreds of photos reflecting years of work with draft horses they have trained and shown. The photo album also includes numerous wagons Wilton, with Dan’s help, has refurbished to look like new.

The Stuedemanns’ horses are all Clydesdales. Why?

“Because they’re flashy! When you walk down the street, everybody recognizes them because of Budweiser,” Paige said.

Both Wilton and Dan worked with draft horses years before the family bought their first Clydesdale.

Wilton had been around horses from the time he was very young and was driving horses before he went to school. In the ‘60s, he worked with his neighbor, putting a team of horses and buggy in Lester Prairie parades.

Dan, too, was fascinated with horses.

“It was kind of his dream that someday he would own horses,” Betty said.

When Dan was younger, instead of making model cars or planes like other boys, Dan made a Budweiser model of horses with the eight-horse hitch and wagon.

“In high school, after school and weekends, Dan would work for a farmer that had draft horses. That is when it all really got started,” Betty said.

“He even went down to Nebraska and worked for an outfit that had 20 horses,” Wilton said.

By working with other owners of draft horses, Dan learned about showing the animals in competition, which later became helpful when his daughters began to show the family animals.

“You go out there and break the horse and show it. You can hopefully do pretty good with its showing and turn around and then maybe make a little bit of money on it when you sell it,” Dan said.

Having the experience of working with draft horses, it just seemed like the next step for Wilton and Dan when they bought their first draft horse at an auction they attended in 1985.

They really had no intention of bringing home a horse that day, but when the bidding began on Jack, an 8-month-old Clydesdale, both men decided to participate.

“We liked him,” Wilton said. “And there was no bid on the horse, and so we finally bid on it and we kept on and kept on and next thing we knew, he was ours.”

They brought Jack home and put him in the cow barn because they didn’t have another place to put him, getting a lot of ribbing from neighbors and friends who believed that cows and horses do not mix.

Wilton and Dan had the last laugh when they sold Jack to Budweiser in 1990, and he became famous appearing in commercials for the brewing company.

The Stuedemann horses have been sold all over the country including Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and just recently, California.

Paige and Brooke help train the horses, and say they get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing they have trained an animal all by themselves.

Paige took first place in the cart-single horse competition at the Clay County Fair in Iowa Sept. 14, with Jett, one of Stuedemanns’ horses. Jett placed second out of 23 other horses for his coloring at the same fair.

This was just one of nine county and state fairs this year in which the girls were able to compete, thanks to the team efforts of the girls’ grandparents, and their father.

The average life of a draft horse is around 22 to 23 years, according to Dan. Ben, who was just sold to someone in California, is nine years old.

“They are generally sold when they are six to 10 years old, because that is their prime and there is a market for them,” Dan said.

The Stuedemanns currently own four draft horses. The most they have owned at one time is nine.

“Nine horses is our limit. This is just a hobby. It is a lot of work to take care of that many horses and get everything done – to make the hay, and haul out the manure, “ Dan said.

An average draft horse may weigh 2,000 pounds or more, and measure up to 19 hands high at the withers. This is quite impressive since an average horse weighs half that and stands 15 to 16 hands.

Given the size of Stuedemanns’ horses, it is not surprising to learn each horse will eat almost quite one bale of hay, which is equivalent to 40 pounds of hay, an average of 14 pounds of grain, and 10 to 15 gallons of water a day, according to Dan. Over the summer they’re pastured during the day and will come in at night, then get as much hay as they want. During the winter, they have hay in front of them all of the time.

An annual visit by a vet keeps the animals healthy and current with their vacinations, including shots for Potomac fever, tetanus, and rabies.

“There are all kinds of things that they can be vacinated for, but you kind of try to center on what is in your area,” Dan said.

Other facts about draft horses

The draft horse originated in Europe. Draft breeds are known for their friendly, good-natured dispositions, and make steady, willing workers.

In the early days in America, young draft horses were put into service at 18 months to plow or pull wagons with older horses. Work horses were a necessity – not only on the farm, but also in big cities around warehouses, freight terminals, and wharves.

With the onset of World War I, there came a demand for heavy horses that could pack supplies and ammunition and haul artillery to the front. Following the war, the market for these heavy horses declined. An increased demand for American grain exports, and the introduction of gasoline-powered tractors hastened the replacement of work horses by machines. Unfortunately thousands of these animals were slaughtered, and some of the breeds nearly disappeared.

In the early 1950s, the work horse started to vanish as it was replaced by tractors, trucks, and all sorts of mechanized farm equipment. However, the gentle giants remained as a crowd pleaser at circuses and state fairs.

Today, draft horses are enjoying a renewed popularity. Pulling contests, as well as halter, conformation, and hitch classes, are popular events at local county and state fairs throughout the nation.

The draft horse is still a practical alternative in small scale and specialty operations. In selective tree harvesting, horses are very useful in logging operations for removing downed trees. Ecologically, they do considerably less damage to forest floors, work quietly, and do not pollute the air.

With this revival of interest, registration figures have risen steadily for all draft breeds over the past two decades. Drafts have become a popular choice to cross with lighter breeds, such as thoroughbreds, to produce sport horses for fox hunting, eventing, trail riding, and pleasure.

Restoring wagons ‘just kind of evolved’

It was about the time Wilton and Dan purchased Jack, their first draft horse, that Dan found an advertisement for an old dump wagon in the Draft Horse Journal, which comes out quarterly. Dan wanted to buy the wagon, and with his father’s help, fix it up to sell. The Stuedemanns drove to North Dakota to buy it.

Wilton remembers that the wagon was in pretty bad shape.

The dump wagon was used to make roads in the early 1900s. Workers would shovel dirt into it and haul it to different locations and dump it.

That was the first wagon that they restored, and Dan has never sold it.

Word got out about Wilton’s expertise in repairing wagons and the offers started coming in.

“First, they would bring something and say, ‘Would you fix this wagon for me?’ and I would say, ‘Sure, bring it on over and we’ll fix it.’ And then it kind of got bigger and bigger,” Wilton said. “Customers would come that we met at horse shows. If you have horses, you have to have a wagon in order to show.”

The old wagons come from all over and much of the work is custom work. If the iron work on the wagon is good, the rest Wilton can fix.

Wilton, who has been retired for two years, calls his hobby something that could really become a full-time job.

“I still get excited. It’s a challenge,” Wilton said. “Right now I am working on a buggy made by John Deere. I had no idea how to put it together. It was all over the floor in pieces and we went down to Spencer, Iowa, where there was one identical to it down there, so now I can keep on going again,” Wilton said.

He has restored a number of freight wagons. One couple Dan had met through a horse show, had a wagon which they had taken apart and had sandblasted and primed. They didn’t know how to put it back together again.

“I said, ‘Dad could do that for you,’” Dan said. “They brought it up here. He had no idea that it was in that many pieces. It was in little pieces like nuts and bolts,” Dan said.

“I had 200 hours in on that,” Wilton said.

“They brought it up in January, and they picked it up in July,” Betty said.

“I have been doing this for so long that you can just look at the pieces and know pretty well where they go as far as the wagons go,” Wilton said.

Dan works with his dad and likes to see the finished project come together.

“It is just interesting to see how they made these close to 100 years ago. You didn’t have torches, you didn’t have welders, you didn’t have drills. How they must have made all of this by hand – it must have been a complicated project,” Dan said.

Wilton has restored a dairy wagon that is on display at the Minnesota State Fair.

“I could remember Ewald Brothers had one long ago. That is where I got the idea from. I never saw the real wagon, but I saw pictures,” Wilton said.

Like the draft-horse cart that Paige and Brooke use in competition, Wilton and Dan have restored five others because there is a good market for them.

Wilton has also restored a water tank wagon that was used to water down the roads in Willmar. They found it in the woods in Grove City. Wilton said the water tank wagon was originally used to haul water up to a steam engine that would run a saw mill or threshing machine.

Not all of the parts for his wagons are made exclusively by Wilton. He has ordered specific parts from all over.

He ordered wheels for one of his freight wagons out of Pennsylvania.

“I asked around and found a guy who made the wooden wheels. Somebody will know someone who does work like that. Just ask,” Wilton said.

Wilton already has the name of someone in Grand Rapids who might help with the leather work on a buggy he is currently working on, but he will wait until after he finishes the framework before calling.

When Wilton has his John Deere buggy restored, he will not have to look far for his next project.

He has another buggy lined up in his shop to work on, and Dan has another wagon on order that they haven’t started on. Plus, there is a small children’s wagon that Wilton has been waiting to fit into his schedule sometime this winter.

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