Picture a six horse hitch of Clydesdale horses, coats gleaming, giant hoofs polished to a high sheen. Who do you envision driving these massive animals? Probably a burly man with muscles the size of a Clydesdale’s leg. That’s certainly not the case at the home of Larson’s Famous Clydesdales, in Ripon Wisconsin.
Small Size, Big Energy
Judy Larson, owner and tour guide, stands 5’1” tall and weighs less than a Clydesdale’s halter. For the past 37 years, Judy and her husband Cal have owned and trained Clydesdales. Six days a week, this horse-happy couple open their home for a fast paced, 90 minute tour and show.
While the animals were certainly magnificent, our family enjoyed watching Judy even more. Her high energy and enthusiasm makes her tours one of Wisconsin’s top agriculture-related tourist attractions in the state. When Judy tells the group she’s up at 4:00am to give her horse’s baths with Dawn and Downy, we believe her. She personally answers the phone to take reservations for up to 400 people a day between May and October. Then of course, there are horses to feed, saddles to polish and 500 bags of popcorn to fill. Let’s not forget the “super-size” task of cleaning horse stalls!
Judy stands in the driveway and greets guests as they arrive, making you feel like you were visiting a favorite aunt. Everything is spotless and organized. While most of us can’t find our dog’s leash, Judy has each horse’s saddle and tack neatly stored and labeled. Because Judy and her husband Cal compete in many 6 and 8 hitch driving competitions, the horse’s equipment is often custom made. People in our group kept making comments such as “Everything is so clean.” “How can they keep the tack so shiny?” “I’ve never been in a barn that smells so good!”
Are Horses Really That Big?
The only time our group quieted down was when Cal brought out Big Jon, one of the largest Clydesdales. Suddenly we all felt a sense of awe standing next to such a massive animal. Since I’m scared of miniature horses, this animal raised my level of anxiety to new heights. Cal demonstrated the intricate care needed to braid the horse’s mane. Judy, perky but petite, used a step stool to be able to groom and saddle Big Jon. Our group had the treat of petting Baby Rex, a baby Clydesdale who only weighed 700 pounds at birth! After tours of the barns, museum and the two 40 foot trailers pulled by custom built trucks, it was…
Judy and Cal have set up a show yard, complete with covered bleachers. (Most of us welcomed the chance to sit and relax after Judy’s high-energy tour.) This is down-home, country entertainment. Judy’s running commentary about their success as Clydesdale-owning,-hitch-driving competitors was interspersed with tricks from two live-wire dogs and jokes about Cal. Cal, dressed in formal “attire”, accepted the kidding and proceeded to give a fascinating performance with his horse. He could control the Clydesdale with only a slight movement of the reins, totally unseen by the audience. After the driving demonstration, Judy led us…where else, but to the souvenir shop where we could buy anything related to Clydesdales.
Big John, Tiny Girl
We were on a 12 month RV tour around the United States when we lucked out by visiting the Larson’s performance. As the crowds dispersed, our 12-year-old, horse loving daughter, walked back to the stables. Cal, sensing a kindred spirit, asked Sondra, “Do you want to brush Big Jon?” My inclination was to yell “No! Keep that monstrous horse away from my tiny daughter!” Instead, I got my camera ready. Cal brought out Big John, (who now looked bigger than ever) and handed Sondra the curry brush. With uncontrolled glee, she brushed, patted and kissed Big John.
There are many horse-related entertainment shows that are slick and polished. The tour at Larson’s Famous Clydesdales gave an oasis of genuiness only one hour from Wisconsin Dells. Our family enjoyed seeing a husband and wife work together. We caught a glimpse of people making a living doing what they loved. We saw horses trained with love and affection. And most of all, we saw a man take time to foster a 12-year-old girl’s love of horses.
Just the Facts
- Larson’s Famous Clydesdales
- W12654 Reeds Corner Road, Ripon Wisconsin 54971
- Open Mid-May to Mid-October
- Recommendations recommended. (Plus you get to talk to Judy on the phone!)