The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

April 24, 2014

Big riders mean big horses on Western trails

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Wranglers in the West who have for decades cashed in on the allure of getting on a horse and setting out on an open trail say they have had to add bigger horses to their stables to help carry larger tourists over the rugged terrain.

The ranches say they are using draft horses, the diesels of the horse world, in ever greater numbers to make sure they don't lose out on income from potential customers of any size who come out to get closer to the West of yesteryear.

"Even though a person might be overweight, or, you know, heavier than the average American, it's kind of nice we can provide a situation where they can ride with their family," said wrangler T. James "Doc" Humphrey.

Humphrey's 10-gallon hat, goatee, black vest and spurs are a tourist favorite at Sombrero Ranches, east of Rocky Mountain National Park, where they have 20 draft horses, including Belgians and Percherons, and 25 draft horses mixes.

Ranch operators say they began adding the bigger horses in the 1990s, but the pace has picked up in recent years. Over the last 20 years, obesity has increased to more than a third of adults and about 17 percent of children age 2 to 19, according to federal statistics.

"I think it's wonderful that these people are looking to accommodate people of larger body size," said Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, adding that more businesses should become "size savvy."

"People of larger body size enjoy athletic activities just as much as people with what's considered normal body size," she said.

Draft horses fell out of favor as machines took over pulling farm equipment in the mid-20th century, said Elaine Beardsley of the Ohio-based Percheron Horse Association of America. Registered Percherons reached a low of 86 in 1953, and are now at 1,000.

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