MOUNT AIRY — If you visit the Savage family's farm you will meet Gloria, Donald, Mike, Lisa, Mickey, Joe, Mandy, Marley, Cindy, Candy, Kay, Chrissy, Megan, Aimee, Cody and Kate.
Sounds like a big family, right? Well,big doesn't quite describe it.
Gloria, Donald, Mike and Lisa are normal-size humans; the rest ofthe family are gentle giant Clydesdales.
Bred in Scotland as work, or draught, horses, Clydesdales are familiar as the horses that pull the Budweiser hitch. The big bays with blazed faces and feathery legs make a striking picture as an eight-horse hitch. But Gloria says there is a lot more to these substantial horses than just a pretty face.
"They are very smart," she says proudly. "So easy to train. Andthey really like to be around people. They love attention and are very affectionate."
The Savages breed Clydesdales and Clydesdale crossbreds, show their horses in halter classes and participate in driving competitions.
They began driving in earnest not with their Clydesdales, but with Ben and Bud, an imposing pair of Belgian draught horses.
"This is a pretty typical horse story," laughs Savage as sherecalls how she and Donald acquired Ben and Bud.
"We bought thesetwo huge horses (1,950 pounds and 2,050 pounds) and all the gear that went with them, but we didn't have a trailer to bring them home in!"
Gloria had been raised on a farm in Broadway, Va., and was familiar with driving work horses, and Donald drove ponies, so using Ben'sand Bud's talents was a natural.
"The thing that always amazed meabout Ben and Bud was how well they worked together as a team. They were very special, and they made driving very special for us."
TheSavages and Ben and Bud had successes at many shows.
Gloria recalls the Virginia State Fair in particular.
"We won so many classes that day," she says. "I drove in an obstacle class and won over 15 men.
"Ben and Bud just always did everything right."
Belgians like Ben and Bud are known for their power, but Gloria and Donald wantedto do more road work. So when Ben and Bud were retired, the Savages bought a Clydesdale mare in foal.
"That was Sadie, and the foal she had was Mandy, who is now 8 years old," Gloria remembers. "We won many classes with Sadie. She showed in Ladies Cart classes, and Mare Cart classes, and has done everything up to a six-horse hitch."
Driving horses can pull a cart singly, or they can work as a pair, as a unicorn hitch (three horses), as a four-in-hand (four-horse) hitch, or in six- or eight-horse hitches.
Both Gloria and Donald rode before they began driving, and Gloria notes some differences between riding a horse and driving one.
"A good driving horse must know his name, and your voice is much more important as an aid than it is in riding," she says. "Your voice has to take the place of your legs as an aid. And when you drive, you must always have good contact with the horse in your hands. You must always be in communication with your driving horses."
Owning draught horses is different from owning your typical riding horse.
"Yes, there are some differences," Gloria acknowledges with a grin. "When you wash a Clyde it is like washing tworegular horses. The feathers on their legs are very hard to maintain, and you have to be able to hold up their feet when you clean them, although some of our horses will let us prop up their feet to work onthem."
Gloria says that, in proportion to their weight, Clydes don't seem to eat as much as riding horses.
"But they drink a lot more, which means that they get their stalls a lot wetter," she says. "Otherwise, there really isn't too much difference in cleaning out their stalls."
The Clydesdale population at the Savages' farm includes two stallions: 8-year-old Mickey and 4-year-old Joe.
"Joe is more mischievous than Mickey," Gloria says, "but he's not mean at all. He drives both single and double, and he just floats when he moves.
"Mickey is very quiet and laid back and has been bred to some thoroughbred mares to get some super crossbreds."
Gloria's son Mike, daughter-in-law Lisa, and 13-year-old grandson Ryan are in charge of breeding the crossbreds, while Gloria and Don specialize in purebred Clydes.
As for the rest of the brood, Mandy, Marley, Cindy and Candy are the four primary show and driving horses; Kay, Chrissy, and Meganare the broodmares; and the babies are Aimee, Cody, and Kate.
TheSavages wholeheartedly encourage people to become involved in driving and draught horses, but they issue some provisos as well.
"You really have to learn about the harness, and you have to learn to put safety first," Gloria says. "More people are giving driving lessons, and you really need to work with someone when you first get started."
The Savages recommend Doris Ganton's video, "Breaking and Trainingthe Driving Horse," for those who might be interested in taking up the sport. This video, others, and lots of support for would-be driving horsemen are available at the Savages' Stablemates tack store in Mount Airy.
"There's just nothing like the feeling of sitting eight feet high on a hitch wagon with a nice team in front of you," enthuses Gloria.
"And there's nothing quite like a loving Clydesdale."