Football is back and that means a lot of people are watching weekend football games on television. I enjoy watching professional football and recently spent a pleasant afternoon watching the Pittsburgh Steelers game with my son. While we have long been fans of the Steelers, there is a special spot in my heart for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I hope they can keep on winning! That same evening a lot of sports fans were watching another football game or a baseball game in the World Series. I chose a different kind of sporting event to watch. The North American Six Horse Hitch World Finals were being held in Shipshewana, Indiana.
I fell in love with draft horses the moment I was old enough to know what a horse was. The first horse I remember here on the farm was “Ted.” He was a big gray draft horse and my Dad always said he had the biggest hoof and took the biggest shoe of any horse he had ever known. He was paired with Dan, a much younger big bay horse that had been born and raised on the farm. They were are a big, tough and gentle team and the first team I was allowed to take the reins to and drive.
I enjoyed listening to my Dad tell stories about other horses that the family had owned and that included one they called “Old Doc.” One Sunday in dad’s high school days he started to walk to the little town of Perrysville a few miles away where he planned to play in a baseball game, my dad’s favorite sport. As he went down the road, he observed Old Doc leaning on the fence and reaching a far as he could for the grass on the other side. Dad decided to teach him a lesson and make him back out of the fence. He picked up a stone and threw it at him, hitting him and surprising him so much that he fell on the fence and took out a large section. Needless to say, with my Grandpa Wagner’s blessing, my Dad spent the day rebuilding fence instead of playing baseball!
The next horse I remember coming to the farm was Belle, a beautiful Belgian mare, who would later give birth to a colt we named Jerry. We didn’t get to keep her very long as when we tried to work her we found out she had an injured shoulder that the previous owner hadn’t bothered to tell us about. I went along with Dad the day he bought “Prince,” another Belgian. I stood at the fence just watching and hoping the price would not be too high and that my Dad and the neighbor who owned him could come to a deal. I would work the team of Prince and Dan for several years and would enjoy every moment that I held the reins in my hands. One of my saddest days was the day Dad agreed to sell the team to a dealer who would take them to Amish country. It was a decision he did not want to make but he had no choice. Times were changing and we had to go to a tractor to get the work all done. It was a very sad day for my Dad too, as he loved his horses.
One of my joys was getting to see the Budweiser Clydesdales several times when we were showing our Holsteins at the Ohio State Fair. They would perform in the coliseum prior to some of the draft horse events. They would let them stand outside afterward so the huge crowd of fair visitors could see them and take pictures. They were so beautiful and so patient as everyone crowded around them.
Twelve of the top winning six horse hitches from all over the country competed in the North American Six Horse Hitch World Finals. The draft horses were Clydesdales, Belgians or Percherons. Each hitch featured six matching horses, perfectly groomed, moving perfectly in sync, attired in shining, sparkling harness, pulling a beautifully painted wagon, driven by a neatly dressed male or female driver handling approximately forty pounds of reins, all working together as one unit and performing in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd. The judge looks for perfection in each hitch. The hitches are eliminated, one by one they leave the ring, until only one is left. This 2020 winner was six beautiful Percherons pulling a shiny purple wagon and owned by Ross Hornberger and Jackson Fork Ranch. They truly were “Gentle Giants”….beauty and perfection on parade.
Barb Lumley wrote this column to be published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.