Standing outside the barn at Hermann Farm and Museum, Inca, a 2,000-pound Shire mare, scratched impatiently at the ground with her feathered foot.
“Her baby is out in the field still,” Ashlee Hughes, the Farm’s equine specialist and teamster, explained, before leading the horse over to be with the others.
Inca is one of three Shire mares now living on the farm, and her 2-month-old baby, Lauren, is one of two foals. People who come for tours of the 160-acre property can meet and see the Shires up close and learn their history.
A rare breed of draft horses, the Shire may be less familiar to people in this area, where the Clydesdale is so prominent, but the Shire has history in Hermann and particularly on the property where Hermann Farm is today.
“The Shires were originally used as a war horse in medieval times to carry knights into battle,” said Hughes. “The reason they were chosen as a war horse is because they are naturally very docile and gentle. They don’t get spooked by loud sounds, crowds or people. They are just very docile creatures.”
“Now on this property, the Kallmeyer family owned and worked it for over 100 years, and at one point they were a mule and draft horse trader in Missouri, but they also had a contract with the U.S. Army over in Europe, sending draft horses and mules over during World War I and World War II,” Hughes noted. “So that’s what we are doing with the Shires here today, keeping that history alive.”
The Shire and Clydesdale breeds are very similar, Hughes explained. They are both tall horses and both have feathered feet. Their coloring tends to be different. Shires are generally black, and Clydesdales are generally bay, or light brown.
The Shires at Hermann Farm were purchased from Jensen Shire out of Blair, Neb., with more on their way soon.
“We will have five mares and three foals, and all five of the mares will be pregnant, having babies next spring, so we will have a total of 13 Shires on the farm,” said Hughes.
Inca is a national title holder. She is the 2013 National Shire Mare World Champion.
“She has outstanding conformation,” Hughes said.
“Shires stand usually 17.2 to 18 hands high . . . We just had one colt born at the beginning of this month, and he was born already over 50 inches, so he was really big. They average around 1 ton or 2,000 pounds. They can pull up to 18 tons, some have pulled more.”
The feeding program is just pasture right now, said Hughes.
“We rotate them through three fields so there is plenty of pasture, and we know they are getting a good amount of food,” Hughes said.
They have two barns for shelter and shade where they can come and go as they please.
“We are working on building a horse barn for them on the other side of the farm,” Hughes noted.
The main barn which is original to the property has previously been used for mules. Upstairs is the tack room, where saddles and harnesses are kept. Along with Shire and mule harnesses, there is a display of antique show harnesses.
The farm doesn’t plan to keep any studs, said Hughes. Colts will either be gelded or sold.
Jim Dierberg, owner of Hermannhof Winery and First Bank, which has had a branch in Hermann since the 1970s, and founder of the Hermann Farm and Museum nonprofit organization prefers mares because he wants to continue breeding them since they are so rare, said Hughes.
“At one time, they were almost extinct,” she commented. “In America there was a point where there were only 30 known Shires, and it’s just through people like at Jensen Shires and Mr. Dierberg now who are breeding them and trying to keep them alive, to get their name back out there.”
Now to See, Pet; Later to Give Rides, Demos
Currently the Shires at Hermann Farm are there for people to see up close, visit with, take photos with and pet, but future plans are to use them for carriage rides and in the field for demonstrations that would incorporate biodynamic farming.
“We want to keep the heritage alive and use the draft horses for what they originally were used for — as work horses, and do demonstrations on how the work horse would plow the field, cut the hay, that kind of thing,” said Hughes.
For now, the Shires themselves are the main attraction. The foals, for people particularly interested in seeing them, will look like babies for about a year.
“They will always be on the farm, but they won’t always be little,” Hughes remarked.
Along with the Shires, two mules live at the farm, Pat and Jane.
“They grew up here with the Kallmeyers. They are 16 almost 17 years old,” said Hughes.
Open Wednesday to Sunday
Hermann Farm, which had previously been open just once a year for the Civil War Days event each fall, is now open Wednesdays through Sundays from Maifest (third weekend of May) through Octoberfest (last weekend of October).
Special events may be added for holidays like Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s.
The farm opens at 12:30 p.m. and the last tour tickets are sold at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are purchased at the brick mercantile store on the western side of Kallmeyers Bluff near Reserve Street.
Tours include a tram ride around the 160-acre farm, with stops at the area Shire paddock and barn area and at a new building that will be used as a distillery. People can set their own pace to visit any of the buildings on site, including the historic 1850s-era Teubner-Husmann house.
Equine Specialist, Teamster
Hughes, who moved to this area four years ago and lives on 8 acres in Gerald, was born and raised in western Nebraska. She grew up riding and training horses.
After graduating high school in 2008, Hughes went to Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre in West Virginia, where she earned a riding master three certification and training level three certification.
Although she had been around horses her whole life, Hughes said Meredith Manor is where she learned “the finesse of training.”
She attended part time for 18 months, working as she took classes.
“Every day you wake up at 5 in the morning, go do your barn chores and then you have two riding classes a day, two training classes a day, and then you do your feeding classes and they have a showing class,” she said.
After completing the program at Meredith Manor, Hughes moved to France for four months where she worked training Pony of Americas at a breeding facility.
“I had wanted to go overseas, to work abroad, so on a whim, I put my resume online on an equine site specifically for training horses in other countries. They reached out to me, and I was in contact with them for six months before I decided to go over there,” said Hughes.
She has been employed at Hermann Farm for more than a year.