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Young Rider

In Real Life: Go Big with an 18.1-Hand Percheron Driving Horse

Rilee Klaers and Cole, his 18-1-hand Percheron driving horse. Photo by Shelley Paulson

At 15 years old, Rilee Klaers may be just starting his driver’s education training, but he’s been driving his Percheron horse, Cole, since he was just 11.

Rilee has grown up surrounded by draft horses. His family runs a carriage business from their 100-year-old, 84-acre farm on the outskirts of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. They raise cattle, grow hay and have a small herd of black Percheron horses.

A Percheron Driving Horse of His Own

When Rilee was just 5, he became involved in his local 4-H club. By age 9, he was showing his Miniature Horse, Dollee, in showmanship and driving classes. The switch from little Dollee to Cole the Percheron at age 11 came with its share of challenges.

“Cole’s head is big and heavy, so you have to pull harder for him to go,” says Rilee. “He’s also harder to turn than a Mini. I have to give myself more room.”

Rilee switched from driving his Mini Horse to his Percheron when he was 11 years old. Photo by Shelley Paulson

When Rilee drives Cole into the show ring, he makes sure to stay on the rail, while smaller horses take the inside track to avoid any collisions.

Rilee loves working with Cole, who is a whopping 18.1 hands tall and weighs over 1,800 pounds. Everything is bigger when it comes to draft horses. Cole eats a big bucket of grain and supplements twice a day, along with a full bale of hay. And just one of his horseshoes is as wide as Rilee’s head!

In spite of his massive size, Cole is not intimidating. He invites you in with his soulful eyes and calm spirit. His easygoing, gentle nature makes him a great horse for someone just learning to drive.

Cole has an easygoing, gentle nature that is perfect for someone like Rilee. Photo by Shelley Paulson

Rilee is still mastering the art of putting on a harness, as there are many pieces that need to be safely in place before the cart is attached. One of the biggest challenges for Rilee has been getting the harness over Cole’s back, but as Rilee gets taller, it’s gotten easier.

Working on the Farm

When Rilee isn’t showing or working with Cole, he’s helping out on the family farm. He pitches in with daily chores, such as feeding and watering the horses, helping harvest hay fields and mowing their huge lawn. Even though it’s a lot of work, Rilee loves living on the farm.

“There’s always something to do,” he says. “Sometimes I just go outside and sit and watch the animals.”

Cole is 18.1 hands and over 1,800 pounds! Photo by Shelley Paulson

The family carriage business also keeps Rilee busy. He often goes along to help get the horses ready, assist customers into the carriage, and stand with the horses so people can pet them and ask questions. Sometimes he even gets to ride in the carriage with his dad. He isn’t driving yet, but someday he hopes to take the lines (the driving version of reins).

Rilee is looking forward to showing Cole in 4-H for the next three years. After that, he would like to keep showing. What makes him want to show a horse like Cole?

“I wanted to challenge myself,” says Rilee. “Go big or go home!”

This #IRL (In Real Life) column about a young man who loves driving his 18.1-hand Percheron horse originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Shelley Paulson

Shelley Paulson is an equestrian photographer and filmmaker based in Minnesota. She shares an inspiring look at some of her favorite images and the stories behind them in her new book, Horses, Portraits & Stories, available on Amazon.

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