A big horse for a big day

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the midst of a cacophony of loud music and color and dancing, Ellie stands placidly, obediently doing her job for her mistress.
Ellie is a white Percheron, an enormous horse who dwarfs her owner, Faith Bradshaw. In Indian tradition, the groom rides in a procession on a white horse to meet his bride. Together, Ellie and Faith participate in some dozen or so Indian weddings every year, in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
“I’ve always loved big horses,” Faith says. “They’re called gentle giants for a reason.”
Percherons are draft horses. Faith’s two horses, a mother-and-daughter team of Ellie and Crescent, aren’t quite as big as Clydesdales — but they’re close. The horses weigh in at about 1,800 pounds apiece. Over the years, they’ve been shown extensively and been in plenty of crowds and parades.
“They’re pretty good at what they do,” Faith says.
Faith has owned the duo all their lives. Ellie is 27 and Crescent is 24. At one point, Faith used the horses for carriage competitions. Then they all grew too old to compete, she says.
About 10 years ago, a friend who owned a carriage business in Raleigh called her. He was getting calls all the time for white horses to be used in Indian weddings. The problem was, his Percherons were black. So Faith started taking Ellie to weddings.
It’s quite a production.
Mary Jo Simpson has gone along with Faith a few times to help her friend with keeping revelers clear of “the business end” of the horse.
“It’s so much fun!” Mary Jo says. “There’s this cacophony of music. If the bridesmaids steal the groom’s slippers, they ransom them to the groom’s family. Fights have broken out underneath the horse before, but she’s never budged.”
“We usually follow behind a van with a huge boom box,” Faith says. “There are drums and noise everywhere. There’s all this dancing and jumping and colorful costumes.”
All the while, Ellie is walking slowly along, doing her job.
As you might imagine, there aren’t too many folks who do what Faith does. She advertises in a magazine called Saathee, published for the South Asian community in the Carolinas. Through the magazine, she gets about 90 percent of her business, she says. The rest comes from word-of-mouth from bridal couples. Her business is called White Horse Weddings.
“These couples spend a fortune!” Faith notes. “We’ve done a wedding with 1,200 people for a sit-down dinner.”
Both Faith and Ellie have elaborate costumes. Faith wears a silk outfit called a Punjabi suit, with loose-fitting pants topped by a long tunic. Ellie’s costume comes from India. It consists of two elaborate covers for her sides, and a colorful woven neck cover and headdress.
When Faith’s horses aren’t working, they spend their days in the pasture, munching on hay and pellets, and the occasional treats of apples and carrots. For her three horses — she also owns a white pony named Jubilee — Faith buys about a dozen 50-pound bags of feed a month.
Faith spends at least an hour washing Ellie before a wedding, but the horses love rolling in the pasture, so they don’t stay white for long. Most weddings take place in the mornings, so Faith and Ellie hit the road sometimes in the pre-dawn hours. Faith says she doesn’t mind getting up early.
Originally from England, Faith moved to Rowan County to work for her brother, Kyle Davis, who owns KMD Construction. She works part-time as a phlebotomist and also cares for her parents.
“I do this as my extra spending money,” Faith says of the weddings. “It pays for my horse food.”
For more information about Faith and her horses, visit www.whitehorseweddings.co.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.