CALVIN LARSON GUIDES Joey the Clydesdale during one of the Larson family’s 37 years worth of shows at their farm just southeast of Ripon. Ariana Hones photo
by Ariana Hones
The year is 1988.
Two Clydesdale horses are en route from their native Scotland to the United States.
More precisely: Ripon.
Flying aboard a 747 jet, airfare rings in at $5000 a piece.
Would Judy Larson of Larson’s Famous Clydesdales do it again?
“Not a chance,” she said. “Those horses were great, but nobody ever beat American-bred and Larson-trained Big Reggie.”
For more than 37 years, Calvin and Judy Larson have been raising Clydesdales and competing in local and national tournaments.
Located just outside of Ripon, they own 14 of the most award-winning horses in the United States.
That fact is how Judy begins her 90-minute daily tour.
“You are looking at champion horses,” she says with a smile.
The big one that will come to the fence once the music stops?
That is Big Reggie standing at 19-hands tall and named lovingly after the Green Bay Packers’ Reggie White.
He was awarded the “Best American Gelding” in the United States.
Even though Budweiser wants him for their pony line-up, Judy assured the gathered crowd that they “are not about to sell him.”
“We are out in the middle of nowhere, they don’t allow us to put up any road signs, we have no other attractions to offer,” she said of their business. “Each day it takes us four hours to set up and two hours to break down.”
Why still do it?
“We never thought we would breed something like Reggie,” Judy said. “It takes 11 months to have a baby Clydesdale and they have a 50-per-cent mortality rate their first 48 hours on the ground.”
Baby Clydesdales are even on the endangered species list, making what the Larsons do all the more special.
“We haven’t lost one foal in 30 years,” said Judy.
When Judy isn’t fielding the “30 calls a day” from people interested in the Larson horses or waking up early to start the intensive grooming for the daily tours, she and Calvin work lovingly with the horses that have made their family champions.
“For the Larsons to have won the national championship is really quite remarkable,” Judy said. “I remember going into competitions with the horses of multi-billionaires and asking Calvin, ‘Honey what are we even doing in this show ring, much less competing against these guys?’”
Yet the overstuffed showroom at the Larson farm doesn’t even display half of their winnings.
After all, this family affair has been happening for decades.
All four of the Larson children started driving Clydesdale at age 7.
“We almost had to put rocks in their pants to hold them down,” Judy laughed. “They couldn’t even see over the butt end of the horse.”
All four children retired as national champion drivers.
Judy’s favorite memory with their horses?
Her youngest daughter Joy at the national championship in cart driving, which was held in Wisconsin.
“The judge lined up all 18 carts in front of 10,000 people,” Judy said. “Not one person from Wisconsin had won a blue ribbon yet.”
Yet Joy’s perfected voice command of her Clydesdale left the audience stunned.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Judy added.
And then after a moment’s pause, there was the resounding cry from the judge: “Joy Larson, junior cart driver of the United States.”
“We are the only family in the United States where all four of our children retired national champions,” Judy said.
The Larson farm also is one of the only places in the United States where participants can see 14 Clydesdales up close.
Visitors will hear the stories of Judy executed with the dramatic flair that comes only from years in the show ring, the running jokes between her and Calvin as he puts on a mini “grandstand” show, and be in awe as horses so tall they must duck as they exit the barn approach with the gentlest of natures.
With many years of show business under their belt, Calvin and Judy Larson are excited about the future of their horses.
Such as Scottie, the 3-month-old baby Clydesdale who will not be full grown for another seven years.
Already looming over toddlers and grown-ups alike, he is on track to be even taller than Big Reggie.
The next star in Larson’s already famous show.