Cannon Valley Percherons | Wisconsin Central
Cannon Valley Percherons and the Olson Century Farm

Most often while driving around Wisconsin we see machinery and men ploughing the fields of the state powered by combustion engines. While sliding down the Cannon Valley of southwest Monroe County, we spotted machinery and a man ploughing the fields with two horses and a puppy. We would learn the horses are Percherons, a special breed originally from France, a majestic and powerful breed able to take on tough jobs such as ploughing and memorable jobs such as drawing a marriage carriage. We met Jim Olson and Lady and Sandy and Jim was kind enough to put his team through a routine for us to watch, photograph and enjoy.

June 23, 2008

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While driving along CH X near Cashton in southwest Monroe County, we were in a fairly narrow valley, a majestic place on a sunny day, and spotted this guy with two horses ploughing a long and narrow field running parallel to the road. I passed him by and then quickly turned around. Boy am I glad I did.

The guy I saw was Jim Olson. He was working with two horses known as Percherons, ploughing his field, mostly to train the horses and prepare them for an upcoming show. The two Percherons are Lady and Sondra, nicknamed "Sandy."

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So, you might ask, what is a "Percheron?" It is a breed of horse built to be rugged, able to pull heavy loads. They have served, and still serve, as logging horses, as competitors in draft horse showings, and even as show horses competing in obstacle courses. It derived its name from "Le Perche," an old province southwest of Paris, where the breed invented whole new ways of moving great amounts of produce and items in the conduct of trade. They have served as war horses, pulled stagecoaches, mail and passengers coaches, omnibuses and agricultural products. Americans flocked to Europe to buy the breed and bring them home following the Civil War.

The
Percheron Horse Association of America has a nice, brief history of the breed which we commend to you.

Lady and Sandy won the World Percheron Congress America 2006 Champion Farm Team award, so we were introduced to world-class horses indeed.

Cannon Valley Percherons is a division of Olson Century Farm, established in 1876, located nine miles south of Sparta in the Cannon Valley. This is a family farm purchased in 1876 by Mr. and Mrs. Jens Olson, buying it from John Cannon after whom the valley is named. The farm has remained in family hands since. It specializes in the sale of Percherons. It also employs its horses to serve such needs as drawn carriage and wagon rides for weddings and special events, including hayrides.

Jim Olson owns the farm and his daughter and son-in-law, Lori and Marc Volden, are actively involved in the farming and Percheron businesses. Lori has told us that they got a white Visa-Via carriage for weddings about two years ago and thus far have been doing about 4-6 weddings and special events a year.

Jim Olson stopped what he was doing when we arrived on the scene and was a wonderful host. He put his horses through their drill for us to watch and photograph. He's a wonderful guy, and this was all quite a thrill for this city boy.

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He first double-checked his rig's connections. Lady and Sandy were quite patient.

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A different view. Let's zoomer in.

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Here's a look at the straps connecting horse to machine, straps that also help spread the load throughout the horse's frame.

Everything checked, Jim put his team through their routine.

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Here they come!

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The parade passes by! As you view these photos, please also note the marvelous landscape here in the valley, a great place for a Sunday ride.

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As they got a little bit away, Jim jumped off the rig to lighten the load on the horses, I assume. I didn't get the name of the puppy tagging along. How about a zoomer on this one too.

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While there is a lot of work and training involved to get to this point, to this photographer, it doesn't get much better than this: man, horses, rig, puppy, all a team working in a beautiful valley in southwest Wisconsin on a sun-soaked April day.

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They're comin' back. I zoomed in on this photo as much as I could and to me it looks like Jim is not holding on to the horses or the rig in any way. Lady and Sandy, I think, are on their own. Spectacular training and discipline.

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I've zoomed in as much as I can on Lady and Sandy and their rig. You get a good frontal view of all the paraphernalia joining horse with horse and horse with machine. You can sense the enormous strength in these horses.

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Jim has hopped back on for the final part of the exercise. I want to give you two zoomers of this: first, Jim and his rig; second, a real close-up look at the power and majesty of these horses.

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Look at those legs! No, not Jim's!

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The results of their work.