"Do we really have a draft breed to call our own? Right here in the United States?". "You bet your sweet grain bucket we do!". That's the way the conversation went on one of many hot sweltering afternoons while we were driving behind the tail of an unruly Percheron mare. When you work a horse with a man day in and day out for a whole summer you learn a lot about trust. Especially when you are greener than the horse. You learn about friendship and a love of working horses that drives some folks to give and give of themselves to see the team and teamster live on. You get to hear, and tell, all the yarns you'd never have time to were you doing something else. Well, this gets me to the subject at hand. Fay Pishion was telling me one of his horse tales mainly to comfort me. You see, my mare was bred and I was concerned about how much work she should do. (By the way she really worked hard that summer, and come May had the most beautiful filly.) Fay was talking that sweet farm talk, "Once I got a sled of wood caught in a deep snow drift, forgetting the lay of my land under all that snow. Well, I was thinking I'd have to unhitch because Daisy was in foal. She fooled me. She put her shoulder to it and pulled us out with no harm to herself. I'd give my eye teeth to have my pair of American Creams I left in Wisconsin. Fritz and Daisy were the truest workers to ever look through a collar. And I tell ya, I've worked a lot of teams!"
Well that got me asking all sorts of questions. It was summer of '85. Finally, winter of '87 I wrote The Small Farmers Journal, Lynn in particular, asking him about Creams and why we never read of them. I sealed the envelope and placed it on the counter. Two hours later my phone rang, "Yes, I still have some harness for sale. Well, it fits a 1500 lb. to 1800 lb. horse. It is a buggy style. What kind of horse are you trying to fit?", I asked. The reply sent me reeling!
"American Creams", the man replied, "but you have probably never heard of them." Talk about Divine Intervention. I glanced down at the letter to Lynn; scratched a few excited words asking to present the information I had requested and here is what developed after many conversations, tips leads, and research.
If there ever was a breed to appear at the most inopportune time it would have to be America's own draft horse. This little-known, little seen breed has been struggling to survive amid the mechanization of our modern times. The American Cream had the great misfortune of coming on the scene during the greatest decline in heavy horse use in history.
Not unlike the Morgan Horse, Tennessee Walker, American Albino and others who have sprung up from one horse with predominate traits, likewise, the American's history can be traced back early in the twentieth century to one mare of draft breeding whose foals consistently resembled their dam in color and type.
Breeders at the time crossed with other draft breeds to refine body type and quality, while retaining the remarkable quality of color the mare passed on. Not unlike other draft breeds, keeping exacting color restrictions has been important. It is also interesting to note that when a Cream is crossed with a Chestnut, three out of four times you will foal a Cream according to "Equine Genetics and Selection Procedures" by Dr. Wagoner.
What does an American Cream look like? This horse can be placed in the medium to medium heavy draft description, with horses ranging from 1600 lbs. to 1800 lbs. A stallion can occasionally reach 2000 lbs., but this is rare I am told. They have ample draft hindquarters, a well muscled chest, and short strong legs. They are well proportioned, not leggy like the Clydesdale or Shire. Their body build and type as described by owners and the Association as being comparable to the Suffolk. They range in height from 15-2 to 16-2 hands.
The American Cream Draft Horse Association describes this breed as a pleasure to work with due to their good disposition. I might add that in my conversations and correspondence with the few owners this bears out as true.
Mr. Vince Tobin of San Diego, Ca. describes his four mares as, "very high energy critters. They are full of beans. With handling and training these horses are kindly, friendly and funny." These horses, by the way were the first to come west of the Rockies.
Mr. Jack Ackerman of Michigan owns five Creams, one a stallion. He feels these horses have a very good disposition. There is agreement that they are calm, but full of action in harness.
The breed is characterized by a cream colored coat; white mane and tail, white on the face and the hairs of the body are a uniform yellow color, unlike the Belgian's coat of many colored hairs. They have long flowing manes and tails. The distinction that really sets them apart though, and makes them somewhat of an genetic anomaly, is their predominate pink skin and amber eyes.
In approximately 1935, a concerted effort was made to get a breed distinction for these horses. At this time inbreeding and line breeding was done to establish the breed. By 1950 they were recognized by The National Stallion Enrollment Board, and in 1944 the registry was recognized by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. It has been noted that these horses were also crossed with other draft breeds - the Percheron, Shire and Belgian being mentioned. All records are kept with the Association.
It is startling to note this breed almost became extinct before getting its four feet on the ground. It is also exciting to be living during a time when a new breed is being developed instead of reading in history books about its inception hundreds of years ago.
The reasons for near extinction, as mentioned earlier, were mainly due to the development of the tractor. Along with other well-established breeds, the Creams had to try to survive after just becoming set apart.
In looking back at the 1920 census, approximately the time "old Granny" was leaving her mark in Iowa, there were over 95,000 registered horses in the draft breeds. By 1945, the number had dwindled to a frightening few thousand. When one looks at the timing it is incredible the breeds overseers managed to keep any of them at all.
Mr. Arnold Hockett of Iowa, who has had American Creams for 48 years, recalled for me with a great sadness in his voice those days of transition from horse to tractor. "I never did change from farming with my horses. I always got a good honest days work the way I learned to farm. Back then, we had a horse kill here in town and my fields were right on the highway. While I was working my teams I could count every 15 minutes a big truck of good farm horses go by to the slaughter. That's what really hurt the Cream and the others too. I just hung onto mine."
Arnold has 10 registered Creams and also Percherons. He still works his farm with horses.
According to the August 1983 edition of Smithsonian Magazine it was believed the breed was extinct. Becoming one of, if not the, shortest lived breeds ever. But, Ridgeway Shinn of the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (AMBC), discovered from a phone tip from the Association's secretary, Karene Topp, that there were 20 left. At that time 4 farmers in 3 states had just pledged to work together to preserve the breed.
So as we sit sipping our morning milk, coffee, or what have you, concerned about preserving America's farms and farm breeds, a beautiful and useful animal has almost gone the way of the carrier pigeon.
There are now nine active breeders listed with The American Cream Draft Horse Association. There are only 30 horses registered. I have been told of a scattering of about 12 to 15 non-registered animals. The majority of the nine are men who have farmed with Creams for 40 years or more. They are not actively promoting the breed, but are willing to see conscientious new blood get involved.
There is something to be said for this horse's persistence. Showing much of the rugged American Spirit many of us hold dear, the American Cream appears to be determined to survive and find its place. many times its been reported a has-been, gone, history. Since this horse is so well suited to the small farm of today because of its practical build and cool temperament, I feel the American Creams' time is now.
People interested in becoming a member of the American Cream Draft Horse Association, or who just want more information, or names of current owners, may contact them by writing: The American Cream Draft Horse Association, Mrs. Karene Topp, Rt. 1, Box 88, Hubbard, Iowa 50122, or contact the author.
This is how the original article read. This is not the current address of the Association. I would like to say a special thanks to Karene Topp, who penned the original history of the Creams when she was in her teens and working for C.T. Rierson, founder of the breed. She hung onto all of the records in her barn through all the lean years. Without her belief in this breed, it surely would have been lost for all time. We all owe her an enormous debt.