How many horses can you drive at one time? For Dave Rohrbach of Bee Tree Trail Percherons, the answer is fifteen.
Draft horses are a popular feature at the Pennsylvania Farm Show each year, and Bee Tree Trail is usually a crowd favorite, not only for the beautiful horses, but for the innovative ways that he drives them.
This year, the most unusual exhibition at the Farm Show will take place on Tuesday, January 10 at 5 p.m., when Rohrbach will present a fifteen-horse team, hitched in a pyramid pattern. He will be hitching the team in the show ring for the audience to see while he explains the process.
Rohrbach presented the fifteen-horse hitch at the Farm Show several years ago. “We have done the fifteen once before, in 2014,” he said. “We never planned on doing it, but it was always in my mind. It was something kind of last minute.”
Normally Rohrbach keeps just six horses at Bee Tree Trail, but for big events where additional horses are needed, he borrows back horses that he has owned or trained. Having personal experience with them, he can trust that they will respond well.
“Basically, two or three of us can put it together, but when you get to a place like the Farm Show and you have all these draft horse people there, everyone wants to help,” Rohrbach explained., “We have a bunch of people on each side, and one on the box to hold the lines. As we hitch each horse we throw the lines up on the wagon to hold.”
One aspect of Rohrbach’s training is that he does not have anyone hold the horses while they are being hitched.
“The horses are programed to stand by themselves. I don’t allow people to hold our horses. Our horses are big enough they should be able to hold themselves,” he said.
Five Lines Per Hand
There are a few challenges to driving so many horse at once, but that does not phase Rohrbach. “I drive with five lines in each hand. Each row of horses has a right and left for each row, so I have five right and five left. I’m steering each individual row, all the horses in that line are attached to that row,” he explained.
Bee Tree Tail’s horses range from 17.1 to 18 hands and weigh an average of 1,900 lbs. each. For the fifteen-horse hitch, they will be put to a show wagon weighing about 3,000 lbs. Now add the energy of show horses and the power is dramatic.
“There’s a difference between draft horses in farming and draft horses in showing. A hitch horse comes with a lot more spirit than the farm draft. The horses are bred for animation, their legs move totally different from a farm draft which would travel like a pleasure horse,” Rohrbach explained. “When you get to a hitch horse, you get to a horse that, 40 percent of the time, has a mind of its own.”
Rohrbach will be showing some of his other unusual driving skills at the Farm Show “We will be on display from the 7th to 14th, and every day except Monday, we put on some kind of performance,” he said.
Tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, January 10 at 1 p.m. is the mini vs. draft horses challenge, where Rohrbach and his Percherons are challenged to do whatever a miniature horse in harness can do on an obstacle course.
On Thursday night, Rohrbach will present a “suicide hitch”. For this challenging demonstration, only the wheel horses of the six-horse team are hitched to the vehicle. The front four are connected only by their reins. He can play out the reins so that the leaders are as much as 65 feet in front of the vehicle, and still remain in control.
Bee Tree Trail, based in Shartlesville, PA, is in demand locally and across the nation for private events, community parades, exhibitions, charitable events, movies and television.