Horses with Jobs: Dray Horses
By Margaret Evans
Job Description: These large, powerful draft horses are used to pull heavy loads.
Harvey’s Brewery was established in 1790 in Lewes, Sussex, England, when John Harvey began supplying wine and port to local customers. Around 1820 he began brewing as a seasonal activity. By 1859 his son, Henry, was brewing stouts and ales for 17 family-owned pubs in the local area. They went through ups and downs, but during the early decades of the 1900s the company made management choices that soon saw it brewing award-winning beers.
Throughout the years, barrels of beer were delivered to the pubs on carts pulled by dray (draft) horses, and today is no exception. Harvey’s Brewery is teamed with Drayhorse Shires, home to the largest selection of carriages in Kent. They provide services for weddings, special events, funerals, and proms. The facility is based in Harvel Meopham where they have an indoor school and 80 acres for turnout.
“On Tuesdays, three times a month, I deliver beer for Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes,” says Steve Smith, head coachman with Drayhorse Shires. “There are only about half a dozen breweries using horses to deliver beer. It’s quite rare. But people love it. You see the same faces every Tuesday. We always get a good response. I also compete for Harvey’s in showing competitions. I did five shows last year with the drays.”
Drayhorse Shires has three black Shires, four white Shires, four grey Gelderlanders (a versatile breed developed in the Netherlands), four black Friesen stallions used for funerals, and a pair of Percherons/Connemaras. Smith also has a young Shire in training.
“He’s black with four white socks. I hope to get a team of black Shires going for the brewery. He’s just pulling a sled right now.”
Smith says that in the summer he does five to six weddings a day. Five weddings means five pairs to get ready, or ten horses.
“Depending on what people order, say all white, then the Connemara horses Sugar and Spice do it. As for mileage, it can be anything from one mile to ten miles (16 kilometres). With the Shires, I only do five miles maximum. But the Friesens and Gelderlanders can do ten miles. But I prefer to keep the mileage down to save their legs.”
A typical day starts before 6 am, getting a pair of horses ready for what is on the agenda. Horses have to be bathed and the carriages and harness cleaned and checked.
“Safety is a big thing,” says Smith. “We’re on public highways and surrounded by people all the time. My job is to decide which horses will do what job – what are they best at. Different drivers and grooms come in at the weekend and help.”
Drayhorse Shires carriages are used for weddings, funerals, and proms.
Smith grew up with horses. His mother used to breed ponies and he met his first draft horse when he was ten. He was smitten. Now 29, Smith is one of the youngest carriage men in the country.
“Horses have taught me a lot,” he says. “You have to understand them individually. Some love to work and do their job, such as the Gelderlanders. They are not the sort that like a fuss. They will work all day long but they like quiet.”
For more information, visit: www.drayhorseshires.co.uk.
All photos courtesy of Drayshire Shires.
Main article image: Three times a month, Drayhorse Shires delivers beer for Harvey’s Brewery.
This article was originally published in Canada’s Equine Guide 2017.