Old Eben

My grandfather Eben imported the first Clydesdale stallion into the United States around 1890. Eben was born in 1865 and as a young man survived a ruptured appendix. He was sickly for years, I’m told, and seemed older than his years because of it.

Somewhere around 1914 my father, Floyd Jones, became the youngest boy to ever drive a draft horse team in competition at the Chicago International. The story I was told was that Old Eben watched the other teams (pairs—only two horses) getting ready to enter the show ring and knew he’d need something extra to beat the teams and professional drivers of his competition. He turned to my father, only 7-years-old at the time, and told him to climb up onto the driver’s seat.

Dad told me he wasn’t sure he’d heard right. He’d driven the horses around the farm for work, but he’d never driven in competition. He said Old Eben boosted him high enough so he could clamber onto the seat, and told him not to worry. “The judge won’t ignore you,” he said.

The other teams were already driving around the arena when Dad drove his pair in. All of the other teams were driven by men, many by professional drivers in uniform, often with another man on the seat to work the brake. Dad was tall for his age, but his feet still didn’t reach the brake or the floor boards in front of the seat, and he was so skinny he bounced around on the driver’s seat as he brought the mares in at a trot.

The crowd roared. A kid was competing with the pros and holding his own. The story is hazy on whether Dad won the class or just placed in the top three. He told us that Eben explained that he knew the crowd would root for a kid, and the judge wouldn’t dare put the crowd’s favorite on the bottom of the class.

In the 1930’s, my father bred Lady Eleanor, the only Clyde mare to be three-times Champion Clydesdale Mare at the Chicago International. My brother Dan still shows and drives his Clydes at the National Clydesdale show at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee.

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