FORT PIERRE — As with many winter sports enthusiasts, a day at play in the snow will sometimes get Dale and Jane Brehe and their colleagues to comparing horsepower — and by that they usually mean Belgians or Percherons.
The Brehes, who are from Agar, favor big, beautiful Belgians named Adam and Ben — after the Cartwrights of the old Bonanza television series.
Gerald Kessler, on the other hand, favors something even more exotic. His idea of horsepower is a pair of Percheron mules named Reverend and Elmo, 11 and 12 years old.
“I’ve had old-timers tell me you don’t have them broke in until they’re 20. They’ve been on a lot of wagon trains. They’ve done a lot of work,” says Kessler, pointing out that this team led a wagon train some years ago over the Fort Pierre to Deadwood route when Kessler served as wagon master.
Reverend and Elmo had an easier task Sunday afternoon on the snowy terrain near Casey Hannum’s ranch west of Fort Pierre. A group of history and horse enthusiasts gathered to spend the day driving bobsleds and simply being around horses.
Tyler Green of Fort Pierre finds big horses fascinating because they powered the machinery of another age.
“I work for Titan Machinery for my regular job, and this is my relax job,” Green said after driving his team of Belgian/Percheron horses, Amos and Andy, on a bobsled run. “I’ve been around horses all my life, but I’ve only been driving horses for about four years. It’s kind of a dying art, almost. They were like the automobiles of their day.”
And bobsleds, area history enthusiast Darby Nutter notes, weren’t about pleasure rides for the first decades of Stanley County history.
“There’s been a lot of hay pitched out of bobsleds,” Nutter said. “It’s part of the past. They had to use them for work before. Now we just use them for fun.”
On a run across the snowy Stanley County plains, the big horses showed why horsepower is called horsepower.