By KAREN KIRSCH
For an $8 admission fee (which includes parking and horse-drawn shuttle), folks can forego the fireworks and barbecues usually associated with this date and spend a weekend in the heart of the world’s largest Amish population, where horses are an unbroken tradition.
Even though the event had its inception 15 years ago as a way to showcase the latest in horse-drawn equipment, it remains one of America’s best-kept secrets. While Horse Progress Days still focuses on farming and logging with draft animals, it has evolved and now includes something for aficionados of all horse breeds.
Set amidst the rolling hills surrounding the barns, field demonstrations of farming and logging equipment are put to a great assortment of horse breeds and other draft animals throughout the day.
Demonstrators are often Amish, but exhibitors and clinicians come from all over the world. Increasing interest in sustainable farming and environmental stewardship continues to attract non-Amish participants who are happy to show off their animals’ prowess.
A large selection typically identified as “draft” breeds is the equine core, but as this show has evolved, Dutch Harness horses and other sport horses are not uncommon. Expect everything from Brabant Belgians to rare American Creams, miniature donkeys and mules of all sizes and even some docile oxen. You might see Friesians with equally elegant Percherons.
Most owners are eager to stop and answer questions or talk about their horses.
Many of the quality items for sale are locally manufactured by people who use them on a daily basis. At the enormous concourse of vendors you’ll find everything from tack to homeopathic remedies and clothing.
Since no horse event would be complete without a canine element, be sure to catch the Border Collie sheep herding demonstrations. Forget about dieting and enjoy some homemade Amish fare, then head off to seminars and clinics conducted by world-renowned experts.
Publishers and authors will also be on hand with vast libraries of books and magazines.
Both days conclude with the parade of breeds. Representatives from each breed registry will extol the history, special characteristics and traits as exhibitors parade a stallion, mare and foal before the bleachers.
Bob Johnson from Delmar, Iowa, and his six Leopard Appaloosa horses put to a replica Wells Fargo stage coach will stampede into the arena at heart-stopping speed. Watching this re-enactment of early overland travel will give you new appreciation for your modern vehicle. The act demonstrates the skill of both the driver and the horses.
This is the place to connect with farms offering basic draft horse workshops or driving clinics.
There will be plenty of photographic moments, but photographing Amish faces is forbidden in their culture. Visitors should show respect by first asking permission or by shooting pictures from a distance or from the rear.
Anyone interested in further expanding the Amish experience can book private tours, which include some Belgian and Percheron horse-breeding farms, Coblentz Collar Shop and Pioneer Equipment with lunch at an Amish home.
For additional information regarding the event, lodging and maps, visit www.horseprogressdays.com.