On April 28, I attended the Ohio Draft Horse Plowing Contest at Carriage Hill Farm in Huber Heights, Ohio. Carriage Hill Farm is a part of the Five Rivers Metro Park system of Montgomery County and is an 1880s working farm where crops and animals are raised using vintage machinery and methods.
Farm employees and volunteers dress for the most part in vintage clothing appropriate to the era, and many programs are conducted throughout the year for the education of the general public.
The first Ohio horse plowing contest was held at the Farm Science Review in September of 2003, the brainchild of cousins Gary and Dean Hopkins. Two years later, the Hopkins organized a national contest at Carriage Hill Farm and invited plowmen from other states and Canada to compete.
The schedule has evolved until Ohio’s state contest is in April, while the USA contest is every Labor Day weekend. Winners of the Ohio contest go on to compete in the USA event against plowmen from other states for plaques, ribbons, and bragging rights.
Plowmen may compete in one or more of the following classes: Walking Plow, 2 Horse Sulky Plow, 3 Horse Sulky Plow, Gang Plow, or Antique Plow. There is a youth class as well for competitors between the ages of 11 and 17.
Horse-drawn plows or modified tractor plows may be used, but no fore carts are permitted. Each competitor is allowed one person to help with the horses, but the helper may not adjust the plow or harness.
Plots are 25 feet wide and 100 feet long, except that those for gang plows are 125 feet long. Each contestant must throw up a crown and plow at least 2 rounds around it, leaving an open furrow on one side as close to the plot’s edge as possible. A furrow is then thrown out at the other edge of the plot and the ground between is finished off, leaving a dead furrow.
Plots are judged on depth of plowing, which should be half the width of the plow, straightness of furrows and headlands, and cleanliness of dead furrow, as well as teamster ship and sportsmanship. Each of the three judges scores each plot with a maximum of 100 points. The three scores are then added together to make up the competitor’s score for a maximum of 300 points.
The weather was a little inclement for this year’s contest although the sun came out for five or 10 minutes around nine in the morning. Unfortunately, that was the last seen of Old Sol the rest of the day.
The first contestants got started around 10 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m. it was raining hard. This kind of put a damper on the proceedings for a while and we all huddled under a tent fly that had been erected for the scorekeepers. The rain let up after an hour or so and the last two competitors did their thing. Not everyone who had planned to plow got to, as several left when the rain set in, or decided not to compete.
Competitors and their scores were:
Walking plow: George Fuller of Pedro, Ohio, 274 points using a John Deere plow and a team of Belgian horses.
Two-Horse Sulky Plow: David Wilson from Willowood, Ohio, 295 points with a Pioneer sulky plow and George Fuller’s Belgians; Ralph Shroyer, Anna, Ohio garnered 276 points, despite the downpour, on a Pioneer sulky behind a pair of gray Percheron horses; Garine Shoemaker, Winchester, Ohio, 271 points with a team of Percherons pulling a Pioneer sulky plow; and Doris Mosher of Marengo, Ohio, with a team of Belgians and a Pioneer foot-lift sulky plow, 258 points.
Antique Plow: Tim Roush, Hillsboro, Ohio, 262 points using a David Bradley plow and a team of Percherons. Garine Shoemaker planned to compete in this class with an Oliver plow, but decided not to.
Gang Plow: Kurt Shroyer from Botkins, Ohio, began his plot but when the rain started to really come down and the lightning began, gave it up.
Three-Horse Sulky: Mike Atkins from Lucasville, Ohio, was the only contestant to enter this class and ended up in a driving rain with a score of 291 points. Mike used a Pioneer sulky plow and his team of three Belgian mules.
There were two additional classes:
Open and Novice in which Lee Ruff, an employee of Carriage Hill Farm, competed in the open class with an Oliver two-way plow behind a team of gray Percheron horses, attaining a score of 239, while Steve Wiseman (home town unknown) got 263 points in the Novice Class with a Pioneer sulky and George Fuller’s two Belgians. Gary Hopkins began his plot in the latter class, but didn’t like the lightning.
The three judges were Shannon Mannies from Logansport, Ind., and Mike Downs from Olympia, Ky., both of whom have competed in several of the USA plowing contests, as well as Dave Trotter, who manages Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Canal Winchester, Ohio.
As some of you may have noticed, all the Ohio contestants came from the western or southern part of the state. Now I know there are draft horse enthusiasts in the eastern half as well and am wondering why these folks are reluctant to participate.
Anyone from Ohio can compete by contacting Jim Butcher ahead of next year’s contest, which will be in late April. Or maybe some of the eastern teamsters could get together and have a regional competition with the winners going to the state contest.
Jim’s phone number is (937) 206-8807 and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.