Alex Fraser has been involved with horses since he was a young boy living in Ketchum, Idaho. He used to coax the neighbor’s horses over to a fence and crawl up on their backs to ride around the corral. That neighbor was Frank McMaster, an old horseman / trainer who was one of the original horse whisperers, way-back before whispering was a catchy phrase. To keep Alex off the horses he was training, Frank gave him a safe pony for his own, thinking this would keep him out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, that thrill soon wore off. Frank couldn’t get rid of Alex so he put him to work on a dude string – taking people out for a ride in the mountains around Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho. Even as a teenager, Alex had horse instinct and common sense, and was able to tack-up and select horses depending on the dude’s experience, size and temperament. He also worked at the Sun Valley Stables before starting training horses and teaching people to ride.
A year after Alex moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, he met Kayo, and found out they shared the same birthday. She had no previous experience with horses but accepted his offer to go riding. Alex was training horses for other people and gave the gentler horses to Kayo to ride. They were married in 1975 and have been together ever since. Soon after, they started buying their own horses to train and sell, and to add to his experience as a full service horseman, Alex attended horse-shoeing school in Arizona.
The Frasers became involved in draft horses in 1976 after watching a local horse-logger pull out some timber on the neighbors’ land with a Belgian gelding. The giant of a horse was quiet, gentle, willing and very able to do the work. This new aspect of horsemanship intrigued the young couple and offered them a power source to clear a building site on their own property. They bought Florrie, a Belgian mare that was being used as a logging horse, and with the help of some ol’ timers in the area who grew up working horses, Alex and Kayo learned how to drive and work horses. Alex used his new skills to do some custom horse logging around North Idaho. Later that fall they drove their horse in a local show. And didn’t do too badly, considering this was their first attempt with an old logging horse.
They soon were logging small parcels for people who didn’t want the larger equipment tearing up the timber area. The need for a second horse was becoming apparent. This is when “draft-horse-itis” set in. The infliction of draft-horse-itis, as Kayo calls it, is when you get hooked on these amazing horses and you always have an itch to improve your stock and expand on your equipment and activities. You get one horse then you need two, and more harness and more vehicles and then more horses – it is not curable! But it is fun.
With two horses the Frasers were now able to do more things. In the summer they used the horses to mow and rake the hay they would need for the winter. They used the horse to “crop-share” on other small hay fields. During the autumn months they would skid in fire wood or sell logs to the local lumber mill. When there was snow on the ground they gave sleigh rides.
Haying became an annual event which soon attracted the help of the neighborhood kids who all wanted to learn how to drive the horses.
This photo is one of many that were taken by photo-journalist Chris Pietsch and published in the National Geographic World, the kid’s edition, in the September 1983 issue. It was a six page color spread. These kids and several others became the crew for the Fraser Belgians at the horse shows for many years. They showed in the junior classes until they were old enough to show in the adult classes. They became the drivers to beat!
Another source of income for Alex and Kayo included the creation and operation of a horse-drawn trolley ride business on the streets of Sandpoint, Idaho. They trained people to drive the trolley horses for several years until the “kids” who helped them were old enough to drive commercially. They ran this business for eight years and sold it before they moved to Montana.
Kayo served as Secretary/Treasurer for the North Idaho Draft Horse Association for three years. Around 1976 she started a newsletter for the Association which she titled the News Spreader. Many people inquired about finding a harness maker, wheelwright, breeders, etc., so Kayo started an international draft horse resource directory called The Reach. She published this from 1980 to 1990, when she sold the business so she could take care of her ailing mother in Florida.
Alex worked for a local harness shop for several years and learned how to make and repair harness. He designed and helped to construct his own set of show harness. It was a different design than was typical for the show ring. It was made with Rosewood harness leather, instead of black or russet, and was trimmed with brass hardware. He used a combination of English and Western designs for a finer harness construction. Very elegant! This photo was taken by Steinley Labs and used on the cover of a Mischka Calendar one year.
The show wagon was also different than most. They bought the wagon in parts and had pieces made to complete it. From the looks of it, the wagon could have originally been a hose or water wagon for a fire department in the early 1900’s. Kayo learned how to paint from an ol’ time antique car restorer, and painted it a dark British Racing Green metallic. The hardware was either brass plated or solid brass. Polished up – it looked like gold.
The wheels on the wagon were the same color as the body, which was different from most of the hitch wagons in those days, which usually sported lighter colored wheels and chassis. The judges didn’t like this new look at first but they finally noticed how nice the hitch looked and how well the horses performed. Alex said, “whether or not the judges liked it – the crowd sure did. That “look” helped me to sell a lot of horses.” It was also the look that led to the creation of the Fraser School of Driving.
As he was building his hitch, Alex bought the dark red horses that other hitch people over-looked because they didn’t have white manes and tails. “But they could really move!” said Alex as he selected his horses.
This is one of the few photos that features both Alex and Kayo at the same time. Kayo is driving Amateur Team at the Denver Stock Show and placed 3rd in this class. The photo was taken by Browarny Photographics, Inc.
Alex and Kayo later trained and showed a Six Horse Hitch of Dapple Grey Percherons for a client in Arizona/Colorado. They took this hitch to Denver Stock Show, too.
With help from their “kids” the Frasers showed draft horses with a lot of success for over 25 years. They had a six horse hitch of Belgians showing from a Single Cart, Junior Team, Hitch Team, Tandem, Unicorn, Four Horse Hitch, Four Abreast and the Six Horse Driving and Conformation classes. They attended all the fairs and shows available in the west including the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado; Calgary Stampede in Canada; Draft Horse Classic in California; Idaho Draft Horse International in Sandpoint, Idaho; and the Draft Horse and Mule Extravaganza in Monroe, Washington. The ribbons really piled up!
In 1989, Dawna, a woman from California, saw the Fraser’s Hitch of Belgians at the Sandpoint show. Impressed by the quality of horses, turn-out and way of driving, she said, “That is what I want!” She had been driving for years but was not very confident, so she asked Alex if he would start a driving school to teach her how to show horses the way he was showing. He told her he would be happy to teach her any time, but she insisted he start a driving school.
Alex and Kayo moved to Montana in 1990 to help a friend with his draft horses and to take care of a portion of his 1200 acre ranch. In 1995 they officially started The Fraser School of Driving, with Dawna as their first out-of-state client. She booked a week of driving lessons, and at the end said her only regret was that she didn’t book two weeks! She had a lot of fun, and learned even more than she expected. She eventually decided to buy the team of Belgian draft horses that she used for the lessons, took them home and used them on wagon train rides and at shows.
The first in-state student was Paula Scott. She had been showing a pair of Norwegian Fjords at Combined Driving Events (CDEs), but wanted to learn how to drive a team of four Fjords. She finally talked Alex into driving for her at the CDEs, and she has been a good client and friend ever since.
Alex went to his first show, in Utah, with Paula Scott’s four-in-hand of Norwegian Fjords. Never having seen a CDE, he successfully completed the courses and was instantly hooked on this new aspect of driving. Learning the rules was the next challenge. Paula brought in the top world class drivers and clinicians so Alex would become proficient in this new phase of horsemanship. They were the only team of four horses showing at the CDEs in the western part of the United States for many years.
Alex enjoyed driving for Paula but wanted to compete with his own horses. He is shown here with his first and finest competition team, “The Polar Boys”, Ice and Breeze, at the Shady Oaks CDE in California. (This photo was taken by Sharon from Oregon.)
The Polar Boys were Percheron / Paint-Thoroughbred crosses, full brothers, and in 2005 became the first models of a pair of horses to be produced by the Peter Stone Model Horse company.
The School has taken off, and Alex has stayed too busy to compete the last few years, but believes he is providing a valuable service to the people who want to learn how to drive properly and be safer, whether they drive for fun, work or competition.
We are so proud of all of our students, but would like to highlight two:
Joe Yoder, who went on to drive in the Advanced level at CDEs with a four-in-hand, and became the Champion US Pairs driver a few years later.
Donika Shrauger, who went on to compete in CDEs with a single, pair, and four-in-hand, and helped create and facilitate the winter clinic series and Summer Fun Training Show that still happen today.
Other students can be found competing in CDEs, working the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, and at other horse farms, corporate ranches, and running their own carriage businesses.