by Judy Van Put
The annual Plow Day for the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association was held in Accord, New York in May at Saunderskill Farm and was well attended. Teams from all over the region were represented.
Robin Jurechko, from Hamptonberg, NY (Orange County) provided information on the club, which she’s been a member of (as well as “social coordinator”) for the past decade. “It started in 1980s with a bunch of people who are still members — some not active, some well into their 80s. They’re the real deal.” She mentioned that “Quite a few young people who are trying to farm with horses or oxen are finding it very difficult because the price of land is so high.” But stated that the Draft Horse Association was formed for exactly this reason — to be a source of information, assistance and encouragement for those who wish to farm with animals — “to try to help each other.”
She credited Frank Castella as the man who started the group, along with John Ingraham, who is the current president. “Frank grew up working with the Cris brothers in Bethany, Connecticut.” In 1981, she said, “Frank and Karen Castella, along with Amos and Jude Holdsworth, Harold Fountain and Dr. Goodman set out on an undertaking to promote draft animals in the Hudson Valley by communicating with other draft animal enthusiasts, including not only draft horses, but also mules and oxen.” And now, 32 years later, the group is still going strong, with 147 dues-paying members (from eight counties and two states) for 2013.
Robin explained that “you don’t have to own draft animals to be a member, just bring your curiosity and enthusiasm….everybody helps each other. Nobody worries if you get a ribbon or not” and that a number of the original group members have now passed away. “We love to do this. A number of the people in the draft horse community are elderly, and we are always trying to get new young people involved so that the tradition continues.” It is the love of draft animals and working with them that is passed along, down through the generations. The group is eager to teach newcomers and encourages new members; it costs just $15 per family to join, and all events are included. There is no charge for vendor fees at the events, “we try to promote this. This group of people are there to help you — and if they can’t they will refer you to someone who knows.”
The HVDHA has several meetings and events throughout the year that are open to the public. In addition to their regular meetings, there is the annual spring Plow Day, usually held in late April or early May, as well as driving classes for people who wish to learn how to drive, and a fall Corn Harvest. Last year the group was selling corn bundles at the corn harvest — and there’s even been a “make your own scarecrow” workshop — “for $7 bucks we supply clothes, straw and wood stakes and all that is needed so that people can go home with a scarecrow.”
Robin listed the 2013 schedule that began with a meeting and driving clinic in January at the Ulster County Fairgrounds: a February meeting at the Olive Bridge Firehouse, a big Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) which, she added, was free of charge — with a good will offering accepted. The April meeting was held at Saunderskill Farms in preparation for the May Plow Day, and a couple of weeks later the group hosted a Square Dance at the Ulster County 4-H building “called by the Hudson HoeDowners, with over 100 in attendance!”
In June there was an auction at the Lawrence Farm in Newburgh (not an animal auction, but plenty of equipment, clothing, boots, plants and what-have-you) and planned for July is a picnic at Stonykill in Wappingers Falls — a potluck beginning at noon. Later that month (July 27) is National Day of the Cowboy, and the group will appear at “Cowboy Day” in the Thomas Bull Memorial Park (Orange County) on Route 416, Hamptonburg, and on Aug. 2 is the much-anticipated Draft Horse Competition held at the Ulster County Fairgrounds, with pulling, obstacles, wagons, ground driving, etc. The group will be at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck on Aug. 25, and also in August is the Tractor Parade at Skip Chamber’s, the New Holland Dealer in Montgomery — past events have drawn 180 tractors and included a live band.
“We’re now looking at Oct. 5 to have the Corn Harvest, and in September, possibly the 21 and 22 at the Ulster County CCE Fairgrounds. We’ll have a couple of meetings in November and December to end the year.”
Robin encourages anyone who is interested in the group to contact her via email at Dmjure33@frontiernet.net or call her at 845-294-9016.
by Judy Van Put