One of the highlights at the Main Horse Arena at Ag Progress Days 2015 was the 6-horse-hitch team of high stepping Belgians from Sunny Hill Farms in Myerstown, PA. Ken and Karen Sandoe have been showing these towering draft horses for more than 17 years.
Their home base is their 130 acre farm near Myerstown, PA, 14 miles east of Harrisburg. Ken Sandoe learned to love Belgians as a boy. His father and grandfather farmed with Belgian horses, and he still uses his huge draft horses on occasion for raking hay, hauling manure, and discing his fields. For Ken Sandoe, now an attorney, however, his horses are “my golf,” and are a labor of love. Simply put, he loves those Belgians.
The Belgians’ history is, for Sandoe, also part of their appeal. These were the horses that made America, hauling what needed to be hauled and farming the land.
At Ag Progress Days, driver Kevin Tempus was “controlling 12,000 pounds of horseflesh with just six lines, one to each horse,” explained Karen Sandoe, who narrated the event. “It’s important he doesn’t get those lines he’s holding mixed up, or he could speed up or slow down the wrong horse. Kevin Tempus, who is also our farrier, has worked with us for 12 years.”
The Sandoe’s son Lucas joined Tempus on the driver’s bench. “Belgians are the most popular horse in the show ring and on the farm,” continued Karen Sandoe, “because they are so strong.
“The front pair of horses are called the ‘lead team.’ They must be snappy, have a take-charge attitude and be willing to step out there and obey commands. You can see they have their ears back, listening for commands. Kevin controls the horses both by commands and by using the reins.” Training them to obey commands takes a lot of work and practice.”
The pair in the middle of the six horses is called the ‘swing team.’ “We use mild mannered horses in this position. The pair of horses just in front of the wagon are the largest and strongest. This pair is called the ‘wheel team.’
“The judges in competitions watch the double-tree hitch that connects the horses,” continued Karen Sandoe. “It should stay level. This means all the horses are pulling the same share of the weight. They need to work as a team and stride together.
“The collar is the most important part of their equipment. It must fit the horse correctly. The horses are pushing into their collars as they pull the wagon. If the collar does not fit just right, their necks could get sore.”
Showing horses is a labor of love, because it is an expensive hobby. “Each horse eats 50 pounds of hay and grain a day.” Transporting the horses, their feed, and their grooming supplies to competitions and shows also carries a high price tag.
The Sandoes have shown their horses as far away as Denver, CO; London, Ontario; and Tennessee. In addition, they compete yearly at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and have won numerous prizes, including “Best of Show.”
Karen Sandoe also drives the horses. After she was the first woman to win first prize in the two-horse-hitch category, she had the honor of driving the carriage of the Governor of Pennsylvania, leading the Parade of Agriculture at the Farm Show carriage of the Governor of Pennsylvania, leading the Parade of Agriculture at the Farm Show.