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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Idea for a new heavy horse festival goes the distance

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

ABOVE: Andrew and Max Marriott at the 2009 festival. Picture: NIC SMITH

THE National Clydesdale and Heavy Horse Festival will be celebrating a milestone this weekend when the 15th anniversary of the event first being held at Werribee Park gets underway on Saturday.

The show, run by a team of volunteers passionate about working horse heritage, features a top-class display of heavy horse breeds shown in hand, in light harness and traditional farm vehicles.

The Clydesdale events, which rival that of Melbourne Royal, capture the most attention but there are also classes for other heavy horse breeds, including some very rare ones.

Suffolk Punches will be on show for the first time in years, a very special event as the big, active breed with a lovely outlook is classed as endangered.

ABOVE: A Suffolk Punch mare being shown in 2011.

There will also be Shires, Friesians, Gypsy Cobs, Haflingers , Drum Horses, Percherons, Highland Ponies and other special breeds in led, ridden and harness.

The first National Clydesdale and Heavy Horse Show was organised by Victorian members of the Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society on March 1 and 2 in 2008.

The driving forces behind the event were Rob and Thelma Ronzio and Lloyd and Marsha Cameron, who wanted to see a show that was purely for heavy horses, without the “pomp and seriousness” of Royal Melbourne Show.

A small committee was formed to develop the program, with Shirley Kerlin the first president.

“The decision to invite participation by other heavy horse breeds ensured the event became a true heavy horse show,” it was reported in the Clydesdale Yearbook in 2008.

“Picturesque Werribee Park Equestrian Centre proved an ideal venue for horses, exhibitors and, most importantly, the public.”

The show, which was cancelled twice due to Covid lockdowns, nearly started off with similar issues caused by an outbreak of equine influenza in NSW and Queensland.

The outbreak led to state borders being closed and the cancellation of all agricultural shows, including Melbourne Royal.

“Fortunately the ban was eventually lifted and Clydesdale and heavy horse breeders could look forward to finally preparing their stock and dusting off their harness and vehicles for the Werribee festival,” the report said.

The first judges were Julie and Tim Peel, Bill Mahncke, Mike Thill and Ray Mitchell.

The supreme champion led heavy horse of the inaugural festival was Sarjon Park Miranda exhibited by Samantha Pate.

ABOVE: The supreme champion led heavy horse in 2008 was Samantha Pate's Sarjon Park Miranda.

Graeme Burns won the tradesman delivery section with his baker’s cart, the single lorry turnout went to Max Marriott’s Aarunga the Phantom and Denia Ford rode Haylands Hazel for a win in the saddle event. (Denia showed her versatility by also winner the lady driver award.)

Claire Marriott was the best junior handler and best junior rider was Thomas Shaw on Alison Sloane’s Maverick.

The Marriott family completed a successful show taking out supreme champion harness horse with Aarunga The Phantom.

As well as show classes, the program also featured displays by the Carlton Clydesdale team and a demonstration of a horse-drawn fire appliance putting out a burning building.

“There are definite plans to run this event annually,” the report concluded.

THE EARLY YEARS (2008 to 2013)

(Click any image to expand)

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