Why would 32,000 people take time out of their busy schedules on a patriotic holiday weekend in 2014 to go to an event that showcases modern horse farming equipment powered by quality draft horses in actual field conditions? Why would they stand five and six deep around the perimeter of the demonstration fields listening to the announcers talk about the special features of each piece of equipment before it’s demonstrated, and then crane their necks to see it work as it passes by?

There’s probably no comprehensive answer to these questions; the best attempts to answer them will contain truths as well as speculation.

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Horse farming the progressive way

The event that gives rise to the above questions is Horse Progress Days, which was held in Mount Hope, Ohio, July 4 and 5, 2014. Ever since its inception in 1994, this event has grown, and every time it’s been held in Ohio, the attendance breaks the location’s previous record. (Horse Progress Days rotates annually to six locations in the eastern U.S.)

Is it the Amish component of Horse Progress Days that attracts so many? Could it be the planning on the part of the local groups in each area, which takes into account the term “something for everyone” and leads to activities for attendees of every age? Might it be the promise of good, ethnic food? Perhaps it’s the many seminars and workshops covering topics from vegetable growing to horse training to raising rabbits to balancing soil nutrients.

Whatever the reasons, Horse Progress Days is an event that’s firmly woven into the fabric of the agricultural blanket.

The Horse Progress Days mission statement says that it exists to show that farming with horses is “possible, practical, and profitable.” Certainly, the amount of equipment brought out each year for demonstration by the manufacturers bears witness to the fact that the market for modern horse-drawn farm equipment is strong. The yearly nature of the event sets a goal for manufacturers to prepare prototypes of newly designed pieces for inspection and feedback. The fact that manufacturers have enough confidence in the market to spend significant amounts of time and money developing new horse-drawn machinery shows that the “possible, practical, and profitable” part of the mission statement rings true. In addition, the fact that this year’s attendees represented 17 different countries gives it an international flavor and shows that animal farming methods have appeal well beyond the borders of North America.

As hard as it is to believe in a world where the old ways are regarded with nostalgia at best and with disdain at worst, Horse Progress Days shows a different model. It is a model in which the old ways are respectfully harnessed to innovative new ways, resulting in methods that provide farmers with meaningful connections to animals and the land.

The 2015 event will be held July 3 and 4 in southern Indiana near the town of Odon on the farm of Nick Graber, president of the Horse Progress Days board of directors. More information can be found at www.horseprogressdays.com. In the Northeast, more information about draft horse farming and activities can be found by visiting the Draft Animal Power Network website at www.draftanimalpower.com.

 Photos courtesy of Horse Progress Days.