Leon Taylor feels right at home at the Hants County Exhibition.
He’s been showing draft horses there for 66 years.
“There isn’t one person left showing today that started when I started in 1947,” the veteran showman said in an interview from his farm in Falmouth.
Taylor first took the ring as a 13-year-old farm boy from Martock following in his father’s footsteps.
“I’ve kept at it ever since and likely I will for awhile yet.”
Taylor was destined for the ring from a young age. As a boy growing up when tractors were the latest and greatest things, he used draft horses for farm work.
“Everybody kept horses them days,” he recalled.
“Today you take a truck and go to town and get what you want. Then we used take the team on the wagon and go in and bring out a load of whatever you was getting.”
There isn’t much work for the horses to do at Taylor’s small farm in Falmouth, but he always finds a way to get his horses show ready, much to the delight of neighbours who spot him sitting atop a wagon hitched to the team he’s preparing for the next exhibition.
The warm-hearted showman has been known to take kids and their parents for wagons rides, and welcome guests of all ages into his barns to visit his big beauties.
“I always say if people have time to come in and see them, I’ve got time to show them to them.”
The show horses must be well fed, but not fat (although some can grow to weigh about a ton), primped, comfortable with the wagon and disciplined before a show.
“A horse has to have a good foot or he’s not going to be in the show ring for very long if he doesn’t have his feet looked after,” Taylor said.
Taylor, a blacksmith, shoes his own horses at his home-based shop, where he once had a visit from a world-class blacksmith who heard tell of him through word of mouth.
Before every draft show, each entry walks past Taylor and his team at the gate.
When asked how he’s fared in the ring, Taylor shrugs his shoulders and replies, “I’ve had several good years of showing.”
It takes some prodding from a friend listening to the interview for Taylor to reveal that he has experienced some success outside of the draft shows, too.
He’s won seven Nova Scotia Grand Championship plowman titles.
“I plowed in one field one year and there was 93 entries in that field,” he said, noting that training plow horses is not much different than preparing a team for the show ring.
“It used to be a great gift to be able to make a nice looking job of plowing and people would stop and watch you… but those days are disappearing.”
Taylor says the grand championships were the result of him regularly putting his horses to work plowing in the past, but it’d be difficult to train a new plow team on his current property.
“I’d still like to be plowing but I don’t have a good plow team and it’s no enjoyment plowing with a pair of horses that don’t work right.”
As Taylor summarizes his life as a showman, he seldom recounts the victories in the ring and never mentions the total number of awards he’s won. He focuses on the horses he’s loved and the people he’s met.
“I’ve known some of the best showmen there is.”
His 17-year-old daughter, Emma-Lee Taylor, is a well known up and coming barrel racer who spends many nights by her father’s side in the barn or on the wagon.
“I've never met anyone as patient, kind, honest or a better sport than him. Dad takes time to talk to anyone, especially when it comes to his horses — he'll talk for hours. He loves sharing his experiences with others,” she said, in an e-mail to the Hants Journal.
She says she is constantly in awe of her father’s way with horses.
“It's never (ceased) to amaze me what he can do with a horse in such a small
amount of time, when it comes to training for a show or just having an
issue with a misbehaving horse. He also tends to a lot of sick horses, whenever he gets a call, which is usually several times a week,” said Emma-Lee.
“The world would be a better place if everyone was more like my father.”
For her father, there’s no better place to be at the end of a long day than in the barn his five Clydesdales share with his Emma-Lee’s racing horses.
“In the evenings is the time when you really enjoy your horses. You can go in the barn and, if you’ve never done it you’ll never know what it was like, to sit down and feed your horses, feed them their hay, and sit down and listen to them grind their hay up,” Taylor said.
It’s something he used to do with the “old fellas” as a boy, and something he’ll never grow tired of. After all, a barn full of content horses is surely something to be proud of.
“You can sit there and pretty near fall asleep listening to them.”