The name Bruce Roy is synonymous with heavy horse culture in this country, and it’s a name that’s been a familiar byline and source quotation in Horses All for a lot of years.
The man is a font of information, a wellspring of wisdom and a soulful of love for draft horses and the men and women who work and play with them.
He’ll be the last one to admit it — in fact he’ll laughingly deny it — but Bruce Roy is something of a legend in these parts.
This summer’s 2013 Calgary Exhibition and Stampede will mark Bruce’s 54th year as a volunteer on the Heavy Horse Committee and he’s got the collection of five-year pins — the latest one encrusted with a small ruby and presented to Bruce last summer — to prove it. He is one of the longest serving volunteers in the organization’s history.
“I’m not about to cease volunteering as of yet,” Bruce grins, adding, “In fact, I hope to make my 55th year as a volunteer, the good Lord willing. While I’ve attended every Calgary Stampede since I became a volunteer in 1959, I exhibited Percherons before that… and have attended each and every Stampede since I was a kid, which takes me back to the 1940s.”
Bruce’s quiet and diligent work with the Stampede has culminated in what has become “the least advertised but the most successful event” at the annual exhibition — the Heavy Horse Show, a musical adventure of epic proportions as turnouts of heavy horses prance in time to orchestral music performed live in the Saddledome by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra… the only show of its kind in the world.
Bruce gives a lot of credit to his old friend Hardy E. Salter for launching his professional career in the heavy horse industry… a journey that began innocuously enough during a horse hunting expedition when Hardy suggested Bruce join him for the annual general meeting of the Canadian Percheron Association in Toronto in 1963.
Bruce did, and was promptly offered the position of Hardy’s replacement as Secretary Treasurer — a position for which Hardy had tendered his resignation prior to the trip, unbeknownst to Bruce, who went on to hold the position himself for some 19 years.
“Heavy horses have opened up countless, countless, countless doors in my lifetime,” says Bruce.
“When I look back on it, I have to shake my head.”
While Bruce has undoubtedly become most famous for his enormous contributions to the world of draft horse culture, earning himself a hefty curriculum vitae of accolades, awards and achievements, outside the limelight he’s really just a guy with whom you want to sit and drink a pot of coffee while listening to him spin yarns. And he’s got a treasure trove of them.
Like the one about getting to ride the livestock train from Calgary to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto — a spectacle that stopped running early in the 1970s. Get him to spin that one for you sometime if you ever get the chance.
After retiring from teaching high school biology and history — “sex and scandal the kids used to call it” — in 1993, Bruce went on to a career as blockman, working with a number of different auctioneers at the leading draft horse sales across the continent, including those held by the Amish in the midwest United States. This is a role he still plays today.
Because of their traditional farming practices, the Amish community held onto their devotion to the draft horse breeds while heavy horses fell out of favour elsewhere, and through his work as blockman, Bruce says, “I’ve made a great many friends in the Amish community because of that.”
He’s just that guy. The one who quietly holds up the infrastructure behind the scenes — a man without whose foundation much that is now celebrated in the heavy horse world simply wouldn’t exist — all while giving all the credit to the ones in front.
“When I look at many of the young people involved today, folks like Brian Coleman, Gordy Ruzicka and others, I appreciate how heavy horsemen are a breed apart, some of the sharpest horsemen I know. I give great praise to them. They’ve done wonders. This past year, at the 2012 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, one of the equine world’s classic Clydesdale shows, two of these young Alberta horsemen — Steve Westgate from Hinton and Wes Gordeyko from Ohaton — made an old guy like me look anemic as they captured grand and reserve grand champion mare, respectively,” Bruce says self deprecatingly.
With genuine admiration and characteristic humility, Bruce adds, “Heavy horse people in this province have been extremely well schooled on what constitutes correctly structured, well conformed, sound horses. The really good heavy horsemen I know are almost an encyclopedia of the names of the great heavy horses… and not just the names, but a knowledge of what constitutes the strength and weakness of each great horse.”
About his own contribution to the education of the next generations of heavy horse enthusiasts, Bruce, with his wife Adair at his side, says simply, “I hope I’ve managed to capture the excitement and the colour of the industry for future generations to honour.
“It’s been a wonderful life.”