Saunderskill Farms, Accord, NY, was the place to be on Saturday, April 30, as a large turnout welcomed the annual Spring Plow Day, sponsored by the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association, under sunny skies and what turned out to be a picture-perfect day. Now celebrating its 35th year, the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association (HVDHA) has sponsored this much-anticipated event, and Dan Schoonmaker, of Saunderskill Farms, remarked he is very pleased that his establishment has hosted the Spring Plow Day for the past five years. The event is free, although donations were gratefully accepted.
Spectators came not only to see to the plow teams and exhibits, but were able to enjoy a wagon ride (two wagons were available for rides, led by Rick Grey and his team, and Sean Geary and his dog with his team of Percherons) as well as do some shopping for gifts, crafts, handmade jewelry and food, thanks to the number of vendors that turned out. In addition, entertainment was provided in the dance tent by Dennis Ballentine and his 10-piece western swing Roadhouse Revival Band.
But the main focus and interest of the day centered around the horses, oxen and many teams that came out for the event.
Robin Jurechko, of Campbell Hall, Orange County, NY, an 11-year member and Secretary of the HVDHA, provided information on the group. It began in 1981 when a group of draft horse enthusiasts decided to form an association dedicated to draft horses, to promote and foster an interest in these ‘gentle giants’ of the horse world.
Frank and Karen Castella, Harold Fountain, Dr. Goodman, DVM, and Amos and Jude Holdsworth founded the group; by the second meeting of the new organization, John Ingram became involved, and is today (and has been for several years) the President of the Association. Current Vice-President of the HVDHA is Matt Smith, also a long-time member.
Although most of the association keeps draft horses as a hobby, many of the teams are used for work such as collecting maple syrup in the spring; plowing; and logging. In addition, many of the teams exhibit at the two local county fairs — the Ulster County Fair in New Paltz, and the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck.
Robin stated she is often ribbed for bringing her oxen to the Draft Horse Association events; she has a team of steers (she explained that steers are a lot calmer and easier to work with than cows) and was the first to become involved with and show them at the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association. At this year’s Spring Plow Day event, there were six oxen — two teams (one belonging to Kaleigh Hamel of Waitsfield, VT; the other to Dan Blumberg, of Newburgh, NY); and two singles: Robin Jurechko’s steer and another belonging to Lain Knapp-Peck.
One of the highlights of the day that delighted spectators was watching 17-year-old Kaleigh Hamel riding her team of oxen. Kaleigh was barefooted, and rode with one foot on each of the large but gentle black-and-white Holstein team’s backs, armed only with a long whip. Kaleigh will be graduating high school in a few weeks, and plans a career of teaching and working with horses and cows.
Also present was eight-year-old Lauren James, who impressed the crowd while working Frank, the 17-year-old red ox owned by Robin Jurechko, with her long whip.
A good number of Draft horse teams took turns plowing the field, including Charlie Lent’s team of three blazed chestnut Belgians, who worked beautifully and were a thrill to see as they made their way around the field in unison.
There were 20 draft horses present (although not all were teams) in addition to the oxen; a few ponies for pony rides, a couple of mini horses, goats, chickens, and other small animals. Robin stated that this year’s attendance was the largest in recent years.
While many of the original founders are still in the group, the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association is always looking for new members. Today the HVDHA welcomes all draft animals, including horses, mules, oxen and goats. The Association offers a Draft Horse Driving class once a year; the monthly classes from January to April provide instruction for students to learn how to drive with supervision; Plow day is the last class offered in April – and by that time, the students are able to drive a team. Students taking the course do not need their own team or wagon or plow; but many go on to purchase their own draft horses and equipment.
There are currently 135 members of the HVDHA; meetings are held monthly to discuss the upcoming events and plan new events; and the meetings always include a potluck lunch. Members are eager to share their knowledge and draft horse driving skills whether for pleasure, work or education. They are particularly interested in reaching out to youngsters through 4-H, FFA, Boy and Girl Scouts and other organizations, to pass along information on livestock and farming.
The HVDHA has participated in many events through the years, including plow days, corn harvests and the county fairs.
Upcoming events include:
- The annual auction at Lawrence Farms on June 10 at 7 p.m. in Newburgh (this includes items from tack and equipment to books, boots and blossoms (flowers) but no animals or livestock)…
- The Ulster County Fair, New Paltz, NY on Friday Aug. 5, an all-day event; with draft horses in the horse barn, and horses and drivers competing in the horse ring all day across the street from the main entrance of the Fair.
- The Dutchess County Fair, Rt. 9, Rhinebeck, NY on Aug. 23-28. The HVDHA will be harvesting corn with an antique corn binder pulled by horses. Other attractions include vendors, wagon rides, pumpkin painting, pumpkin picking, a corn maze and live music. Admission is free; donations are gratefully accepted.
For more information on the HVDHA please email Robin Jurechko at email@example.com or call 845-294-9016 or 845-657-2032. All are welcome; no previous experience or ownership of livestock is necessary.