Harness, Hitch, and Drive

Mar 18, 2016 Robin DeRieux University of California, Davis
Draft horse driving club offers students free rides around the Quad.
Harness, Hitch, and Drive

Experienced students train the new recruits to drive the draft horse team.

When two gleaming black draft horses arrive on the Quad pulling an old-fashioned wagon, UC Davis students can catch a glimpse of an earlier era. Leeza and Olive, 1,800-pound Percherons, are driven by members of the UC Davis Draft Horse and Driving Club. On most Friday afternoons, the club offers free rides to anyone looking to travel back in time, or to those who just want to take a spin around the Quad.

No Experience Necessary

Animal science major Tracy Moreno, co-president of the Draft Horse and Driving Club, had no experience with horses before arriving at UC Davis. As a freshman, she took riding lessons at the Equestrian Center. During her sophomore year she spotted the draft horses on the Quad and contacted the club leadership.

“One day I saw the team, and the next day I was learning how to harness the horses,” said Moreno, a senior from Visalia who spends 10 to 12 hours a week with the club. “The more experienced students teach the new students, even if they’ve never been around horses.” After graduation, Moreno hopes to turn her extracurricular activity into a career — driving a draft horse team for Disneyland or another amusement park.

Campus Icon

Now a campus icon, the draft horse club was originally formed in 2003 by undergraduates Joel Viloria and Robin Denney, whose father Bob Denney of Hames Valley Vineyards donated the horses, cart, and equipment, as well as feed for the gentle giants. “Without Bob’s support, we wouldn’t have a draft horse team at all,” said Viloria (B.S., ’06, animal science and management), who now works for the Department of Animal Science as manager of the UC Davis Horse Barn.

After graduation, Robin Denney (B.S., ’04, viticulture and enology) moved abroad to work in international agriculture. Viloria remains in touch with Bob Denney, who recently donated two more Percherons, Marty and Dee. After the new horses have been trained, the team is expected to grow to four.

The campus has embraced the draft horse team tradition, which has since become a regular feature at Picnic Day, commencement, CA&ES College Celebration, homecoming, groundbreakings, and other special events on campus. Viloria recalls one memorable outing with some visiting Hyundai executives from Korea, who toured campus in the draft horse wagon wearing UC Davis cowboy hats.


Anyone in the UC Davis community can join the Draft Horse and Driving Club, which meets Monday through Thursday to practice single cart driving and on Fridays and Saturdays for team driving.

“You learn a lot from horses that you might not learn elsewhere — like patience,” said Ji Hyun Song, a sophomore from Los Angeles majoring in animal science and management. “It’s interesting to figure out how to communicate with a creature so much bigger than I am who doesn’t understand me. You have to study their body language.”

Another member of the Draft Horse and Driving Club, animal science sophomore Hannah Morris of Cerritos, California, frequently helps handle the team on Friday afternoon wagon rides. “During the heat of midterms or finals, it’s a nice break for students to take a little ride around the Quad,” said Morris, who plans to become a veterinarian. “We’re here for the fun of it.”

See the club website for more information. For a free ride, the team typically stops to collect passengers on the west and east sides of the Quad.

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