ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
byThe Free Press
Traveling across the United States for a job you love-with no expenses-and meeting friendly new people at every stop sounds like a dream for any teenager.
For Cody Penner, a 17-year-old Hillsboro High School senior, it’s become a way of life in summer.
Penner has been employed as a show horse groomsman for the past three summers for Greg and Joann Vancouver, with Vancouver Percherons, and Steve and Lean Ade, of Ade Belgiums-all of Salina.
“I harness the horses, work on their feet, clean and wash the horses, and basically get the horses ready for shows,” Penner said.
He recently returned from Manitoba and the World Percheron Conference, where he groomed the animals for the prestigious draft horse showcase.
Percherons originated in the province of Le Perche, near Normandy in France.
The true Percheron horse was developed in the 17th and 18th century for the purpose of army mounts and for the encouragement of the breeding industry.
Described as a proud, alert, intelligent and hard working horse, Percherons range from 15 to 19 hands high and weigh as much as 2,700 pounds, but average about one ton.
“A true Percheron is either black, white or gray,” Penner said. “I’ve found them to be a lot calmer and easier to work with than most other breeds.”
Penner, son of Gary and Terri Penner, has grown up around the massive beasts since 1991, when the family, along with grandfather Lynn Penner, purchased a Percheron.
Penner said his fledgling career began simply by paying attention to his surroundings.
“I learned to do these things by watching my dad and grandpa and following them around over the years,” he said. “My parents have known these two couples I work for for a long time and they’ve known me since I was little.
“They asked me to come along with them and help them out.”
Thus was born a summer job that Penner hopes will translate into a full-time occupation.
Penner said he originally began showing his family’s horses, but quickly realized the demand for his time.
“Now, I’m so busy showing horses for others that I don’t have time for our own,” he said with a smile. “I love traveling and going down the road, and I get to meet a lot of new people.”
During his trip to Canada two weeks ago, Penner said the first order of business once the team arrived was to exercise the animals after their lengthy confinement.
“We had to walk our horses a lot because they’d just had a 17-hour trailer ride,” he said. “After that we started getting them ready for the show.”
That’s the responsibility that earns Penner his keep.
“We have to wash all the horses and get them cleaned up before we start putting on their harnesses,” he said. “Then, their manes and tails also have to be braided, but I don’t do that.”
While he admitted his pay is hardly lucrative, Penner said other aspects of the job make it more than worthwhile.
“I get paid, but I really don’t care how much because I really have fun doing what I do,” he said. “I get to see a lot of different places around the country and meet a lot of new people-and it doesn’t cost me a thing.”
As part of his compensation, Penner travels expense free while boarding in a camper trailer.
Free time gives Penner the luxury to sightsee.
“We have quite a lot of time for that,” Penner said. “Most of the shows are in the evenings.
“There are usually draft-horse shows and several different draft breeds showing against each other,” he said. “But we also sleep a lot during our down time because it takes a lot of hours and hard work to get these horses ready for a show.”
The responsibility placed on Penner’s shoulders is magnified when the value of the animal he grooms is considered.
“Some of the top show Percherons are worth as much as $50,000,” he said. “What makes a good horse is how it’s built and its actions, and how high it lifts its front legs when it walks.”
Percherons, Penner said, originated as farm horses, but are now used for both farm and show.
“They pull wagons and the judges mainly look for how easy they are for their handlers to control and how well they work,” he said.
Penner was slated to spend this past weekend in Springfield, Mo., but his travel schedule is far from complete.
“We’ll show in Salina, at the Missouri State Fair, the Iowa State Fair, the Kansas State Fair, the Oklahoma City State Fair, the Tulsa State Fair and the Denver Stock Show,” he said.
Apparently people are taking notice of Penner’s work.
“I’ve been asked to go with a lot of different hitches,” he said. “This last week I was asked to go with a hitch from Ohio. But since I still have a year of school left, I had to turn them down.”
With his quest for knowledge kindled, and his obvious love for horses, Penner hopes to pursue this kind of work full time.
“I’d love to do this as a professional career,” he said. “There are a lot of people who do this for a living.”
Penner, in fact, wants to attend a prestigious farrier school in Michigan.
“It’s like the Harvard of horse-shoeing schools,” he said. “It’ll teach you a lot about horses.
“There’s a big demand for someone to shoe draft horses,” he added. “I’d like to go there when I get out of high school and get a full-time job with a hitch somewhere.”
Just where those lucky horseshoes take Penner is anybody’s guess.
“For a while I used to want to come back and live around Hillsboro, but since I’ve been out and traveling doing this, I kind of know there are things out there I’d like to see and do,” he said.
“I’d like to take a shot at some of them.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL