Born in 1940, Stan Carruthers of Carp, Ontario, was predestined to work with Clydesdales.
“My grandfather was a stallioneer in Carp, and he used to have Percherons,” explains Stan. “In 1922, he sold his Percheron and bought a Clydesdale stallion. That’s how the love affair began.”
As a young man, while Stan would put together the occasional draft team to show and sell with his father, he wasn’t able to work with horses full-time.
Stan’s love of horses came from his father, Gordon Carruthers Sr. Photo courtesy of Stan Carruthers
“For the first five or six years, all we ever thought of was war,” says Stan. “School was secondary to me for a long time. They weren’t teaching me what I wanted to learn. The horse industry was all I’d ever lived or dreamed, but there was no teacher for that other than my dad.”
In 1959, after a stint in the dairy industry, Stan began the transition to horses as his primary business. He purchased a pair of Standardbred siblings, Minor Joe and Minor Helen, who would become champions in the show ring as well as on the racetrack.
“There were all kinds of Standardbreds in the Carp area at one time; it was a big industry on a local level,” commented Stan. “Minor Joe was tough and intelligent, and he would go as far and as fast as he had to go to win.”
It wasn’t until the 1970s that Stan would make the switch to breed and show Clydesdale’s exclusively.
“The draft industry was kind of punky in the 1950-60s, but everything flew after 1972,” says Stan. “A friend of mine, Cyril Greene, wanted to get into the Clydesdale business. So, he bought a bunch of horses and asked me if I’d drive them for him. I said yes, but I have to take my dad wherever I’ll go.”
Stan started in the horse business with a pair of champion Standardbred siblings, Minor Joe (pictured) and Minor Helen, before making the move to Clydesdales. Photo courtesy of Stan Carruthers
In addition to his driving, Stan was actively involved in the Carp community and sat on the board of the Carp Fair.
“I went on the fair board in the centennial year, 1967, and it was quite big at the time,” says Stan. “All the draft breeds showed together – Percheron, Clydesdale and Belgian – and there was favouritism from the judges. We had enough entries – 12 or 15 hitches in the ring with more guys getting in all the time – that I organized the Eastern Regional Clydesdale Association. Ontario had a club, but they were too far away and there are a lot of breeders in Western Quebec. So, I organized in ‘75, had the first Clydesdale show in ‘76, and in ‘77 I split the Percherons and Belgians into their own organizations.”
Shortly after founding the Eastern Regional Clydesdale Association, Stan decided to breed his own line of Clydesdales. The search for a good foundation mare led him to Truro, Nova Scotia over Christmas break of 1980, where he purchased eight mares and a yearling stallion. One of the mares, Elmview’s Pioneer Betsy (Betsy), would become the matriarch of a long line of Clydesdale champions. Her second foal, Lady Di, became somewhat of a local celebrity in Carp, with 31 championships to her name and several local commercial appearances.
“She was a natural,” says Stan of Lady Di. “When she was in the show ring, the judge couldn’t take his eyes off her.”
In 1975, Stan founded the Eastern Regional Clydesdale Association. He is pictured driving with his son, Gordon Carruthers (right). Photo courtesy of Gordon Carruthers
Inspired by the success of the Carp Fair and with a robust herd of award-winning horses to call his own, Stan turned his eyes to a bigger prize: The World Clydesdale Horse Show and Trade.
“Around 1992, the Americans were trying to have a World Show but couldn’t get enough investors,” explains Stan. “It didn’t look like this show was going to happen, so I asked the Americans if they would come to Canada if I could do a world show. They said yes, so I left immediately before they could give it a second thought.”
For seven years, Stan campaigned across Canada and the globe to put together a world-class event. He attracted support from politicians and investors with a business plan that estimated a $35,000 contribution to the Ottawa economy. To attract exhibitors and attendees, Stan set up booths at local fairs, and traveled to Scotland and England to advertise at Highland Shows.
When the show finally arrived on August 25-29, 1999, the fruits of Stan’s labour were evident. With almost 400 horses in attendance at the Carp fairgrounds – including six from the `Clydesdale’s birthplace, Scotland – The 1999 World Clydesdale Horse Show and Trade was, at the time, the largest Clydesdale show and competition in the world.
Thousands of attendees paid the $10 entrance fee to the event. In addition to standard line and hitch classes, as well as an international auction, the eclectic event program included Clydesdale barrel racing, a medieval jousting simulation, and a craft marketplace.
tan’s love of Clydesdale competition took him across North America and inspired his travels to the birthplace of the breed in Scotland and England. Photo: Lynn Cassels-Caldwell
“The memories of that were unbelievable,” says Stan of the show. “It was hot – I’ve never seen that many dirty feet and saddles in all my life! But people came, and they’d sit there from 10 in the morning until six at night. I couldn’t believe it.”
Stan sold all six of his hitch horses at the show’s auction, including Lady Di’s most prolific offspring: Carp Valley Harold (Harold), owned by Owl Creek Clydesdales. Harold would go on to win a record number of awards, including seven national champion cart horse titles at the National Clydesdale Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2007 alone, he captured three titles at the Royal Horse Show in Toronto, Ontario, and won both Best Clydesdale Gelding and the Men’s Cart Class at the World Clydesdale Show in Madison, Wisconsin. Harold’s long list of accolades earned the distinction of being one of the top three Clydesdales show geldings of all time.
“He was wild,” Stan says fondly of Harold. “If you hooked him up, you took a deep seat and hung on!”
World-class Clydesdales have continued to emerge out of the Betsy line, including five-time North American Champion, Carp Valley Adrien, owned by John Newell of Richmond, Ontario.
Hank is the newest addition to the Carruthers’ current herd, and another foal is on the way. Photo: © EC/Caroline Soble
The current Carruthers Farm herd includes four Clydesdales, with a foal on the way. The numbers are a far cry from the herds of 25 or more that Stan used to maintain, as Carruthers Farm has adapted to meet the fluctuating demands of the draft business.
While the draft industry may be changing, Stan, now 78, has remained a constant force for its advancement in Canada and the local Carp area. He maintains his position as president of the Eastern Regional Clydesdale Association, and still attends as many local horse shows as possible.
“There is no display of horsepower in any of the World Show breeds like the Carp Fair ring,” comments Stan with pride. “It’s the best ring in the world.”
Stan (right) has handed Carruthers Farm and its Clydesdale breeding program to the next generations: son, Gordon (left) and grandson, Blake (middle). Photo courtesy of Stan Carruthers
The day-to-day running of Carruthers Farm and its breeding program has been handed down to the next generation. Stan’s son, Gordon, continues to show homebred Clydesdales, descended from Betsy, across North America alongside his wife, Val, and their son, Blake.
“I wanted Blake to be a rider, but no…” jokes Val. “Blake will go to the Royal and World Show with his dad and he just lives for it, and talks about it for a month steady afterward. He absolutely loves it.”
It’s evident that Clydesdales run strong throughout the Carruthers family, but there’s no denying that Stan reigns as the breed’s most fervent champion. As Gordon puts it simply: “There is no one that loves Clydesdale horses more.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo: Stan Carruthers, 78 is a lifelong champion of the Clydesdale breed, and brings the illustrious history of Clydesdales in Eastern Ontario to life through his photos and stories. Photo: © EC/Jessie Christie