Big John was the first horse I ever bought in a hurry. I had hired a few carriage drivers to work in Old Orchard Beach for me and I was in serious need of another solid carriage horse to keep our schedule. I purchased Big John from a friend who acted as an agent for me in Canada. Big John was eighteen hands tall, much larger than I wanted but my friend assured me that Big John was exactly what I needed.
Big John was bred by a Percheron breeder in Canada as a hitch horse for his eight up team. At six years old he was sold for an unknown reason. An old farmer bought him who logged firewood and pulled farm equipment with him. When the farmer died his wife was sad to sell Big John but could not use him herself and wanted a good home for him. We sent pictures of Big John in the carriage that summer. She was very happy!
Big John arrived on July first and on the fourth he was on his maiden carriage voyage in Ocean Park, a quiet community just down the beach from Old Orchard. It was a busy night and as we were ready to head in, a group offered us a large amount of money to take them to the pier. I knew fireworks were starting at 9:30 and we had time to get there and back before that time. So off we went.
What I didn’t know was they had blocked off the roads and we couldn’t turn around! So we headed down a back road and had to come down the hill back toward the pier. Luckily we had two lanes, when they let off an early presentation right in front of us on the beach. Big John stopped and stared, held still and then with patient urging he continued down the street, turned right with the fireworks going off, now out of site behind his blinders and headed down the road without a hitch. He was a keeper!
That summer we never rode him. He hung out at a stable in Ocean Park with Rose and did a great job with the carriage through all the commotion of the tourist season from trains and fire trucks to loud motorcycles and tipsy tourists. In the fall we brought him home and started riding him. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get customers to ride him because of his size. I told the girls after we’d used him as a guide horse for 30 days to start putting people on him. If anyone refused to ride him they were to give them a second choice horse, such as Rose or Abby. I also mentioned that it might be good to offer him to the tallest male rider first. So far no one has refused to mount Big John, though some are a bit nervous once they stand next to him. After their ride they think he’s great. They stop to pat him, take photos with him and brag about him later on through reviews and photos on our Facebook page.
Since then we have hooked him to mowers, ridden him on the beach, pulled firewood in the winter with him and just loved every minute with him. He’s so versatile that his height isn’t even noticeable anymore. What is noticeable is the amount of food he eats! He eats twice as much as Rose and Abby combined each day, 4 times grain that all the other draft crosses subsist on and 8 times what Cricket and Vista eat. He’s high maintenance with size 8 shoes that need Drilltech year round for wagon and carriage work on the road and snowball pads in winter for sleigh rides. But he has been well worth it!
Big John is the boss in the herd, or he seems to be. He gets his grain first, but when Rose is finished she goes over and ignores his threats while pulling his dish out from underneath his nose. Rose and Abby both think he’s their boyfriend and will often be found sleeping on each side of him. Rose will not allow Abby to be between them.
Big John has been an integral part of many weddings, proposals and events all over Maine. Every year he pulls the wagon around the Seadogs ball field, takes families on a Harvest ride at Settler’s Green, and an historic tour of Poland Springs during their Heritage Days. Big John has brought Santa ’round the LLBean campus in Freeport! He has been part of many parades including Casco Days Parade and Maine State Fireman’s Parade, He even pulled an emergency evac board over the back side of Leach Hill Road when one of the EMT units had to leave it behind to get an injured person out. Jokingly we called him Casco Fire and Rescue Off Road Unit 4.