When the DeKalb County Free Fall Fair takes place this week, hundreds of people will tour the Draft Horse Barn to marvel at these “Gentle Giants” which once powered the agriculture industry.
These horses, twice the size of a saddle horse, are pretty impressive up close.
What most visitors don’t see is the work that fair exhibitors do in order to bring the animals to the fair. The days before the fair are a flurry of activity for our family as we get our Belgian draft horses ready for the show ring.
Prentice Belgians will have six horses in the Draft Horse Barn: our mare: Lillie and her foal, Tulip Moana; and four geldings, Dan, Chip, Dale and Wally. Tulip was born May 31 and will be in a box stall with her mother. She’ll be a popular stop for petting by kids and adults alike.
The Belgians have already gone to the farrier for their pedicures. Their hooves are trimmed, shaped and filed smooth (think of a giant fingernail file) to make the best impression on the judge. Our horses get their feet trimmed about every six to eight weeks all year round to keep their feet healthy and sound.
Each Belgian gets a bath today, the day of fair check-in, and manes and tails are de-burred and combed. Washing a Belgian is like washing a pickup truck — the whole family pitches in to get each horse ready for the ride to town.
The whole family also pitches in during fair week. My husband Lowell, son Jeremy, daughter Dawn and son-in-law, Kerry Yingling, all take on the task of showing the horses in the show ring. I am chief operations officer, cleaning the harness, packing supplies for the grooming tray and making sure my two-step ladder is handy for combing the mane on the top of the Belgians’ heads. We all make sure the stalls are clean all week for our fair visitors.
Some years, we’ve had help from 4-H members who signed up for the draft horse project through the Doubletree 4-H Club. The draft horse project is the only animal project where the 4-H member doesn’t have to own the animal. In DeKalb County, 4-H members who don’t own a draft horse are matched with a DeKalb County Horsemen’s Association member to “borrow” a horse for the completion show and learn from the adult volunteer.
Here are some photos from our fair experiences in past years. See you at the fair!