Alex Fraser has been involved with horses since he was a young boy living in Ketchum, Idaho. He used to coax the neighbor’s horses over to a fence and crawl up on their back to ride around the corral. That neighbor was Frank McMaster, an old horseman / trainer who was one of the original horse whisperers way-back before whispering was a catchy phrase. To keep Alex off the horses he was training, Frank gave him a safe pony for his own, thinking this would keep him out of trouble. That thrill soon wore off and Alex wanted to learn more about training horses. Frank couldn’t get rid of Alex so he soon put him to work on a dude string – taking people out for a ride in the mountains around Red Fish lake near Stanley, Idaho. Even as a teenager, Alex had horse instinct and common sense, and was able to tack-up and select horses depending on the dude’s experience, size and temperament. He also worked at the Sun Valley Stables and then started training horses and teaching people to ride.
A year after Alex moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, he met me and found out we shared the same birthday. I had no previous experience with horses but accepted his offer to go riding. Alex was training horses for other people and gave the gentler horses to me to ride. We were married in 1975 and have been together ever since. We started buying our own horses to train and sell. To add to his experience as a full service horseman, Alex attended horse-shoeing school in Arizona. We wintered there with two of our horses.
We became involved in draft horses in 1976 after watching a local horse-logger pull out some timber on a neighbor’s land. The giant of a horse was quiet, gentle, willing and very able to do the work. This new aspect of horsemanship intrigued us and offered a power source we could use to clear a building site on our property. We bought Florrie, a Belgian mare that was being used as a logging horse and with the help of some ol’ timers in the area who grew up working horses, the two of us learned how to drive and work horses. Alex used his new skills to do some custom horse logging around North Idaho. Later that fall we drove our horse in a local show. And didn’t do too bad, considering this was our first attempt with an old logging horse.
Soon we were logging small parcels for people who didn’t want the larger equipment tearing up the timber area. The need for a second horse was becoming apparent. This is when “draft-horse-itis” set in. The infliction of draft-horse-itis, as I call it, is when you get hooked on these amazing horses and you always have an itch to improve your stock and expand on your equipment and activities. You get one horse then you need two, and more harness and more vehicles and then more horses – it is not curable! But it is fun!
With two horses the we were now able to do more things. In the summer we used the horses to mow and rake the hay we would need for the winter. We used the horses to “crop-share” on other small hay fields. During the autumn months we would skid in fire wood or sell logs to the local lumber mill. When there was snow on the ground we gave sleigh rides.
Haying became an annual event which soon attracted the help of the neighborhood kids who all wanted to learn how to drive the horses. This photo is one of many that were taken by photo-journalist Chris Pietsch and published in the National Geographic World, the kids edition, in the September 1983 issue. It was a six page color spread. These kids and several others became the crew for the Fraser Belgians at the horse shows for many years. They showed in the junior classes until they were old enough to show in the adult classes. They became the drivers to beat!
Another source of income for us included the creation and operation of The Round Town Trolley, a horse-drawn trolley ride business on the streets of Sandpoint, Idaho. We trained people to drive the trolley horses for several years until the “kids” who helped us were old enough to drive commercially. We ran this business for eight years and sold it prior to moving to Montana.
I served as Secretary/Treasurer for the North Idaho Draft Horse Association for three years. Around 1976 I started a newsletter for the Association which I titled the News Spreader. Many people inquired about finding a harness maker, wheelwright, breeders, etc., so I started an international draft horse resource directory called The Reach. It was in publication from 1980 to 1990 when I sold the business so I could take care of my mother in Florida who was dying of cancer. The Reach is still in print and published in Indiana now.
In 1980, Alex apprenticed with a draft horse show judge who was also a Percheron breeder in Canada. Since then, Alex has judged draft horse shows in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and California. The Grass Valley, California Draft Horse Classic has had him back twice to judge that top quality show.
Alex worked for Sandpoint Harness for several years and learned how to make and repair harness. He designed and help to construct his own set of show harness. It was a different design than was typical for the show ring. It was made with Rosewood harness leather, instead of black or russet, and was trimmed with brass hardware. He used a combination of English and Western designs for a finer harness construction. Very elegant! This photo was taken by Steinley Labs and used on the cover on a Mischka Calendar one year.
The show wagon was also different than most. We bought the wagon in parts and had pieces made to complete it. From the looks of it – the wagon could have originally been a hose or water wagon for a fire department in the early 1900’s. I learned how to paint from an ol’ time antique car restorer, and painted it a dark British Racing Green metallic. The hardware was either brass plated or solid brass. Polished up – it looked like gold. The wheels were the same color as the body which was different from most of the hitch wagons in those days that sported the lighter colored wheels and chassis. The judges didn’t like this new look at first but they finally noticed how nice the hitch looked and how well the horses performed. Alex said, “whether or not the judges liked it – the crowd sure did. That “look” helped me to sell a lot of horses.” It was also the look that led to the creation of the Fraser School of Driving.
As he was building his hitch, Alex bought the dark red horses that the hitch people over-looked because they didn’t have white manes and tails. “But they could really move!” Alex said as he selected his horses.
This is one of the few photos that has both of us in it at the same time. This is the Amateur Team at the Denver Stock Show – I placed 3rd in this class. The photo was taken by Browarny Photographics, Inc.
With help from their “kids” the we showed draft horses with a lot of success for over 25 years. We had a six horse hitch of Belgians showing from a Single Cart, Junior Team, Hitch Team, Tandem, Unicorn, Four Horse Hitch, Four Abreast and the Six horse Driving and Conformation classes. We attended all the fairs and shows available in the west including the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, The Calgary Stampede in Canada, The Draft Horse Classic in California, The Idaho Draft Horse International in Sandpoint and the Draft Horse and Mule Extravaganza in Monroe, Washington. The ribbons really piled up!
In 1989, Dawna, a woman from California saw our hitch of Belgians at the Sandpoint show and said, “That is what I want!” Meaning the quality of horses, turn-out and way of driving. She had been driving for years but was not very confident, so she asked Alex if he would start a driving school to teach her how to show horses the way he was showing. He told her he would be happy to teach her any time, but she insisted he start a driving school.
In 1990 we moved to Montana to help a friend with his draft horses and to take care of a portion of his 1200 acre ranch. In 1995 we officially started The Fraser School of Driving.
Dawna was their first out of state client. She booked a week of driving lessons and said her only regret was that she didn’t book two weeks of lessons. She had a lot fun and learned more than she expected. She eventually decided to buy the team of Belgian draft horses that she used for the lessons, took them home and used them on wagon train rides and at the shows.
The first in-state student was Paula Scott. She had been showing a pair of Norwegian Fjords at the Combined Driving Events (CDE), but wanted to do learn how to drive a team of four Fjords. She finally talked Alex into driving for her at the CDEs and she has been a good client and friend ever since.
Alex went to his first show in Utah with Paula Scott’s four-in-hand of Norwegian Fjords. He trimmed the fat and extra hair to make the Fjords look sporty. Never having seen a CDE, he successfully completed the courses and was instantly hooked on this new aspect of driving. Learning the rules was the next challenge. Paula brought in the top CDE drivers and clinicians so Alex would become proficient in this new phase of horsemanship. They were the only team of four horses showing at the CDEs in the western part of the United States for many years.
They retired the Fjords in 2004. Alex bought some awesome ponies for Paula so they could have a better four-in-hand. Paula also bought Jesse, a single driving horse, so she could compete at Training Level. This photo was taken of Paula driving at the CDE in Jackson, WY.
Donika Shrauger, a student from the Fraser School of Driving, is now driving Paula Scott’s team of four ponies and doing very well!
Another student and former apprentice, Joe Yoder, is now driving Advanced Team (four horses) and has become the Champion US Pairs driver.
Other students can be found working the famous Clydesdales or for other horse farms or corporate ranches.
Recently, Alex has stayed too busy to compete but believes he is providing a valuable service to the people who want to learn how to drive properly and be safer, whether they drive for fun, work or competition.
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