Hundreds Turn Out for Draft Horse Field Day
SHELBURNE, Vt. — Pete and Jaguar each weigh a ton and stand about 7 feet tall at their shoulders —18.3 and 19 hands respectively.
Their owner, Cathy Wells, is 5 feet 6 inches tall, and she harnesses Peter and Jaguar herself.
“They’re such honest, hardworking horses,” said Wells, who brought Pete and Jaguar to the Green Mountain Draft Horse Field Day at Shelburne Farms last Saturday. “They love to work and at the end of the day, they accomplish something.”
The draft horse field day was organized by the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association. For the last 26 years, the association has held its annual field day at Shelburne Farms, a nonprofit educational organization situated on a pristine, 1,400-acre working farm and national historic landmark on the shores of Lake Champlain.
The field day started as a way for draft horse association teamsters to gather and use each other’s equipment. It has since become a learning experience for the public, attracting 200 to 300 people each year who either already adore draft horses or want to learn more about these tall, muscular animals used for farm labor for centuries.
“It gets a little crazy,” said Jean Cross, the draft horse association’s president, before the three-hour event began.
Cross and others said interest in the event has grown with a draft horse renaissance that is occurring nationwide, as more people become interested in sustainable agriculture, renewable forms of energy, traditional farm equipment and greater connection to the land.
According to recent statistics, about 400,000 agricultural operations in North America use draft horses in some capacity. According to the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association, more than 100 farms in Vermont use animal power.
All 14 horses at the field day — they came from six different farms — perform work on their respective farms. All of the farm owners at the event also have a tractor, but not all draft horse association members do, Cross said.
Cross lives in Ferrisburgh, Vt., and has retired her two large draft horses, but she still uses her two mini draft horses for moving hay and dragging fence posts on her hobby farm and vegetable garden.
Most draft horse owners enjoy the quietness of working with the animals as opposed to equipment, and like being in that element.
“We’re not about going back in time,” Cross said. “We’re about looking at horses for the future.”
Growing up, Wells had some horses, but she didn’t own any for 30 years. She negotiated with Shelburne Farms to live on the property if her horses could work there too. The horses help with logging, sugaring, plowing, mowing, seeding and more.
“We haul a lot of stuff,” Wells said.
She’s lived at Shelburne Farms for five years with Pete, Jaguar and her two other Shire horses, Rocket and General, but she will be leaving soon for a new home in nearby Charlotte, Vt.
“There has been a lot of hopeful discussion about Shelburne Farms getting its own team,” Wells said.
Pete and Jaguar were popular at the field day, which brought local families and summertime tourists to Shelburne Farms. The sunny skies and warm weather were perfect for this year’s theme of wheat production.
In addition to several demonstrations, the field day also featured rides, other farm animals (goats and mini draft horses among them), and a 30th birthday party for Dudley, a miniature donkey and Shelburne Farms fixture.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, or NOFA-VT, served farm-fresh salads and flatbread pizza from their mobile wood-fired oven.
Cross said the field day is not a fundraiser for the association. While Shelburne Farms charges admission, the field day is free. To raise money outside of membership dues, the association publishes a popular calendar and holds an annual auction and separate riding clinic in May.
Draft horse owners inside and outside Vermont are eligible for membership, according to criteria listed on the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association’s website.
“I love to see the horses working in that field during our field day,” Cross said.
Michaelyn Crosby’s sons, Ronnie, 2, and Mason, 1, are fascinated with horses, so she and her husband, Jason, made the field day a destination. The boys were all wide-eyed over Pete and Jaguar.
“Every time the boys see them, they want to hug them,” Jason Crosby said. “They’re having a great time.”