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‘Gentle giants’

New London man has special bond with his two Percheron draft horses

It wasn’t difficult for Les Graham to come up with a name for his ranch located in rural New London.

With his two Percheron draft horses at the time, Ben and Ladd, doing the “grunt” work, Graham and his son, also named Ben, constructed a timber frame barn during the winter of 1999-2000.

“It was part stupidity,” laughed Graham, when asked why he chose to build a barn in this manner. “I had tennis elbow for a long time after that. Really, though, I knew it would be a lot of work, but it was something I had always wanted to do with the horses.”

The horses pulled felled timbers 38 feet long and 23 inches around the base out of the woods so they could be taken to a nearby mill to be cut into 8-foot by 8-foot beams of various lengths.

“It was hard work, even for the horses,” Graham recalls. “They snorted a bit trying to pull them out. Because there was snow on the ground it made it a little easier for them to drag. They would pull about 15 logs a day one-quarter mile for five Saturdays. First, though, I had to drive them four miles to get there and then four miles home.”

The majority of the work was done on Oct. 10, 2000, Graham gathered approximately 30 men for an old-fashioned barn-raising. The result was a beautiful 32-foot wide by 42-foot long barn with a working hay mound.

“Draft horses generally live around 25 years,” Graham mentioned. “I got them from a man named John Quisberg, who lived five miles from me. He taught me a lot of things about Percherons and how to care for them.”

When Quisberg passed away several years ago, he had a horse-drawn funeral, with Ben and Ladd pulling his casket in a wagon to the cemetery.

Those Percherons are now deceased; Ladd living until age 26 and Ben until he was 19 years old.

Graham currently owns Percherons named Joe and Pete; half-brothers who are 8 years old. Percherons are one of five breeds of draft horses common in America; the other four are Clydesdales, shires, Suffolk and Belgians.

Draft horses have been known throughout history as work horses because of their massive size and immense strength. But they are also gentle animals that enjoy being around people.

Pete and Joe are fast becoming celebrities in the area, tagging along with Graham, who recently authored a book called Jude’s Gentle Giants, on his book-signing tour.

“It gives the people that read the book or are interested in the book a look at these types of horses and how they interact with people,” said Graham. “Kids love to sit on top of Pete and Joe.”

Aside from being book-signing companions, Pete and Joe are used for numerous other activities. Each horse is black, close to 18 hands high and weighs around 2,200 pounds. Pete has an uncharacteristic wide white blaze on his face, while Joe has a narrow white blaze on his face.

“They pull sleighs for people to ride in, they’ve been used in two funerals, proms, some parades and weddings. And I’ve used them during some field days around the area in which they will plow or mow and rake hay.”

Watching Graham with his horses, whether at his ranch or when he has them penned up at one of his book events, it’s easy to see the mutual respect they have for one another.

“John (Quisberg) taught me that the horses like it if you blow in their nostrils,” said Graham. “It’s sort of a bonding and respect thing. And they like the smell of humans. Joe will stick his muzzle in my face all the time so I will blow into his nostril.”

And that mutual admiration and respect goes a long way in training horses.

“The only way to get a horse to work hard is by love and respect, not by beating them,” Graham insisted. “Sometimes it takes some time for them to trust and respect you, but if you make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy for them, they soon understand and respect you.”

Graham and his wife, Kathy, have been married for 35 years. They have three children and six grandchildren. The couple own and operate Radiant Outfitters, an in-floor heating company.

Jude’s Gentle Giants Jude’s Gentle Giants is a coming-of-age story about a young man with strong faith who has a desire to own Percheron draft horses and soon bonds with them.

“Part of the story came from old family stories from my grandpas and uncles, and from my own childhood experiences,” Graham noted. “I came from a dysfunctional family, and my message in this book is what a God-intended family should look at from my perspective. It’s basically about a faith-filled family that relies on God.”

Jude is a young farm boy who faces difficult challenges, but soon learns the rewards of hard work, responsibility, faith and family values.

The book is available at Runnings, Book World and Good News Book Store in Willmar, the Mill Pond in New London, Wetzel’s Harness Shop in Spicer, and Belgrade Hardware. For more information on the book or to contact Graham, visit

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