By the first of April, frost has vanished from the ground and draft horse teamster’s thoughts turn to spring ploughing.
The Central Ohio Draft Horse Association was out in force over the first full weekend in April at Roger Shira’s farm on Cassell Road, south of Fredericktown.
The first bluebird weekend of the year with temperatures hitting 80 both days, only a brisk breeze kept the draft horses, mules and ponies comfortable.
At least 60 head of draft animals ranging from mini mules to 19 hands/one ton, plus draft horses in pairs and up to six horse hitches turned over all but a small snip of the 50-acre field across the road from the Shira farm.
Just off Route 13, the sight of all those draft horses attracted a steady flow of cars and amazed spectators.
It was quite a sight to watch the draft animals go nearly out of sight down the half mile long field, turning over furrows as straight as a taunt string.
No trophies or ribbons were awarded. The association is a fraternity of horseman dedicated to the preservation of draft animals and the skills and traditions passed down from the men and women who cleared this land with oxen and horses.
There were no first or last place finishes on the field – just winners. These informal plow meets are more of a social event than competition, a chance for the grey beards to get out there and teach the new generation how land was tilled before the tractor, and still is in the Amish communities.
And here is a rare opportunity for the novice or want-to-be draft horse teamster to learn first-hand from men and women who do compete with the best in the world right here in Ohio.
Another fine tradition preserved by draft horse people is home cooking and good eating. Phillis Shira and her helpers set up tables and chairs in their new two-car garage and out on the lawn where they served lunch.
Later, on Saturday evening, a pancake dinner was served in the Methodist Church in Fredericktown followed by an association meeting, a raffle and some draft horse talk.
Those of us who grew up with draft horses in the 1940s were told not to get attached to them, fore they would be gone by the time we grew up.
A very depressing thought for anybody who loved the big draft horses, and as it turned out most of them were gone by the ’50s. But they underestimated man’s love affair with the horse.
Thanks to the Plain People and a few draft horse farmers, the power source that carried us into the 20th century was not abandoned completely.
By the ’60s, draft horse numbers were on the rise. Today they still power the Amish farms and supply power and family recreation on an increasing number of non-Amish farms.
And as the price of gasoline rises, the draft horse will have an increasing role to play in those alternative energy resources they talk about.