LARAMIE, Wyo. — Pistol and Pete — the University of Wyoming’s draft horse team — might be rising stars around the state, but that doesn’t preclude them from earning their keep around the ranch, a university representative said.
“We do several things with them around the (UW) Beef Unit,” said Travis Smith, the livestock manager at one of the university’s experimental ranching stations. “We pull a hay wagon loaded with supplemental feed and take it out to the cows and flake it off. We’ll pull a metal drag called a harrow in the spring and break up some of those areas where we did feed. Pretty much anything you would do with a flatbed pickup, they do.”
Chestnut brown with flaxen manes, the two are nearly identical.
“I have a few ways of telling them apart,” Smith said, patting the horses gently. “Pistol is slightly taller. He’s 14.2 hands tall, and Pete is 14.1 hands. Pistol has a full mane; whereas, Pete is balding. And the other give away is Pistol has a black mark right here on his (butt) cheek.”
The haflinger draft team is a recent addition to the UW mascot armada and pulls wagons during parades and ceremonies to highlight the efforts of the UW Extension.
“The team and the wagons are billboards for UW,” Smith said. “These two love people.”
Purchased in 2015 to celebrate UW agriculture research, he said the horses were somewhat of a dream come true.
“The university’s Wyoming (Agriculture) Experiment Station was celebrating its 125-year anniversary last summer, and they wanted to go all out,” Smith recalled. “They already owned a hay wagon and an old sheep wagon, and I had a strong desire for a team of horses.”
A UW graduate, Smith started at the Beef Unit as an intern before being promoted to livestock manager more than a decade ago. Tipping his straw cowboy hat back, he explained he’s always had an affinity for equines.
“After talking about it, we decided a team of horses would be a perfect set of ambassadors for the experiment stations,” Smith said.
In the Rocky Mountain region, draft horses have become a common choice for marketing efforts in part because of their temperament, he said.
“Draft horses by nature are gentle creatures,” Smith explained as Pistol nuzzled his hand, seeking attention. “I think it might have been bred out of necessity. Quite often, they were working in tight places where they couldn’t have a negative disposition.”
An Austrian breed, he said haflingers are utilitarian horses.
“The haflinger was developed as a dual purpose horse — riding and pulling carriages,” Smith said. “They needed them to be able to handle the work they were doing in the mountains but still be able to ride them to town on windy trails.”
Once acquired by UW, the team was put to work almost immediately.
“They were doing parades a few months after we bought them,” he said. “They’ve been to Powell, Sheridan, Douglas, Lusk, Torrington and, of course, Laramie Jubilee Days. They’re well-traveled — I’ll say that much.”
Brass buttons on the draft team’s brown leather harness gleamed brilliantly in the midday sun as Smith trotted them around the UW Hansen Arena.
“I don’t think most people get it, but riding a wagon with a team of horses on a beautiful day through the Laramie Valley is an experience unto itself,” he said, raising his voice above the jingling harness.
In addition to parades, hay rides and field work, Smith said Pistol and Pete are beginning a fledgling modeling career with a calendar already out and appointments to appear on UW President Laurie Nichols’ Christmas cards.
“They’ve turned into rock stars wherever they go,” he said. “I think by and large, people are drawn to animals, and these two are just gentle giants.”
Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com