Virginia City stagecoach team wins world titles
Matt Clover’s Percherons are the first team to ever win back-to-back titles
VIRGINIA CITY—Visitors to Virginia City in the summertime see Salt and Pepper nearly every day. They’re the picturesque pair of Percheron draft horses driven by Matt Clover, taking visitors on stagecoach tours of the historic district.
What those visitors likely don’t know is that they’re riding behind a pair of world champion horses—two-time world champions, in fact.
Clover, who has owned and driven Salt and Pepper for more than a decade, got the horses when they were three years old. He’s taken them to the World Percheron Congress (WPC) twice now.
The WPC is held every four years, shifting locations each time. This year’s competition was held in Des Moines, Iowa and drew teams from around the nation, as well as over a dozen different countries, says Clover. Japan, France, Germany, Austria and Colombia were all among the represented nations. In all, over 60 teams of Percherons competed.
“Some events are timed, and others are just judged,” says Clover. “It’s all about how well the horses are matched, how well you communicate with your horses and how well they communicate with each other.”
Judges watch the competing teams compete in different classes of competitions. There are walking and trotting classes, in which Clover drives the pair from a cart, plus plowing classes, obstacle courses and pulls, in which the team has to drag different amounts of weight.
At the end of competition, scores across the board are combined to determine the overall winner.
“We never won any particular events to win the overall, but we competed second, third or fourth in seven different events,” says Clover. With those scores, they racked up enough points to outscore the rest of the competing teams.
It’s the second time Salt, Pepper and Clover have won the overall title. They missed the 2014 WPC competition in Massachusetts, but back in 2010 they took home the gold as well, making them the first team in WPC history to repeat as world champions. Clover also has numerous other titles at the national level.
“There’s very little specific preparation, but really, every day is preparation,” Clover says. “I use them all summer on the stagecoach and in parades, and I compete with them throughout the summer as well, to keep them sharp. Everything you do has to be very precise.”
Clover also thinks the fact that the horses have lived, competed and worked together for so long makes a difference. Salt and Pepper are now 14 and 15 years old and have been a team for twelve years.
“If you work with someone long enough, you know what they’re thinking almost before they do,” says Clover. “I think there is an advantage to having them together for so long. They know each other.”
Clover says local support has been instrumental in allowing the team to pursue their world championship aspirations. District Judge Loren Tucker has been a longtime supporter and even traveled to Des Moines with Clover and the team. Three Forks company Steer In Trailers donated a trailer to assist with their travels, so they wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel for the 10-day trip.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without all the support they’ve given,” says Clover. “They really made it happen.”
Clover and his team will spend the winter in Big Sky, where they’ll pull winter sleighs at Lone Mountain Ranch. Then they’ll return to Virginia City and the summer stagecoach season, training and preparing all the while for the next WPC, which will be in 2022 in Manitoba Canada.