Calgary – Brian Coleman first drove his way into the top spot at the Calgary Stampede as a 17-year-old teamster with his Champion Percheron Team in 1986. Three decades on, Coleman’s winning ways are still going strong.
Coleman won $10,000 for finishing first in the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition at the 130th anniversary of the Heavy Horse Show driving the Mark Messenger Memorial Hitch at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday. Country Lane Belgians out of Sunderland, Ont., driven by Kyle Forsyth and owned by Ted English, was named reserve champion in the field of 10 hitches, taking home $7,500.
“It never gets old,” the 47-year-old from Didsbury, Alta. said with a laugh shortly after his win. “That’s not to say it wasn’t with its challenges. Some years, you have more training than talent. Other years, you have more talent than training. That’s what we had this time out, with some surgeries that affected training.
“I was a bit nervous going in. But this is the most talented assembly I’ve seen in a while and they made it happen.”
It’s Coleman’s seventh championship in the event and third win in a row. Things have changed a lot since he started bringing hardware home from the Stampede.
“The championship team I won with in ’86 would be dead last if they were here. Not to take anything away from that team, but that’s just how much the sport has developed. Just like other professional sports — football, basketball — we want to be bigger, faster, stronger and that is what we are trying to do to make it appeal to a wider audience.”
To that end, Coleman trains the animals — there are nine gelding Percherons on the hitch owned by Kirk Messenger of Cheyenne, Wyo. — with a mix of cardio and strength work in a season that runs from Labour Day to Labour Day. Four of the horses on the winning hitch were returning players from the 2015 Stampede.
The six horse hitches are judged on factors including appearance, conformation and synchronicity. The matching sets of gentle giants step in time to live music provided by members of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the 21st year of this unique partnership. The Heavy Horse Show, which includes the Six Horse Hitch Competition, saw approximately 200 heavy horses (Belgians, Percherons, Clydesdales and Shires) compete in more than 100 classes over four days.
Coleman said that he is fortunate to make a living doing what he loves. And when that moment kicks in when everything is working well together, he settles in to enjoy the ride.
“I always say I don’t do pressure because any time you approach it, it’s the first time. You try to have your horses as ready as possible and have your mindset as ready as possible. If you’ve done the hard work, your horses will usually rise to the occasion.”
Full results for the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition can be found here: http://ag.calgarystampede.com/results