The much-anticipated Spring Plow Day was held at Saunderskill Farms, Accord, NY, on Saturday April 28. Sponsored by the Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association, (HVDHA) visitors found that in addition to the draft horses, there were oxen and mules added to the colorful lineup of draft animals that plowed their way around the fields.
A large number of vendors with tables and booths of items for sale were located in the grassy field just behind the parking area, along one side of the field to be plowed; the field was lined on other side by the many teams and pairs of draft animals, whose owners were busy getting them brushed and harnessed up and ready to work. We made our way down the line and were able to meet many of the participants.
HVDHA members Matt and Linda Smith traveled over from New Paltz; Matt is currently Vice President and Linda is Treasurer of the club. They mentioned that the HVDHA started back in 1981 with their first Plow Day. The President is John Ingham, who has held that office for 37 years. The Smiths attend every year, having come in the past with another team. Today they brought their seven-year-old Percherons, Atlas and Andy, which they purchased about three years ago. The Smiths’ horses are barefoot, and get trimmed every six weeks, as they don’t much work on the road. If they participate in the Montgomery parade, they will put on front shoes with Borium; and if working on a logging job under rocky conditions they will shoe them front and back. Atlas and Andy’s usual routine involves pulling a wagon walking in a field, or just on the side of the road for about 1/2 hour at a time. Matt estimates that these tall horses stand at about 18-19 hands; as he is 6’3” and matches up with the horses’ withers.
There was quite the discrepancy in height when Kaleigh Hamel, of Montpelier, VT, came walking up the field with her trick pony, a mini named Lady, with quite a following of youngsters behind. Lady is six years old, stands just 23 inches — that’s about six hands at the withers — and weighs only 175 pounds! The children in attendance were delighted with watching Lady perform so beautifully, as well as seeing the goats, sheep, ponies, chickens/ducks and rabbits first-hand, and experiencing a pony ride.
We passed quite a few oxen on our way to see the draft horses that were in line along the field, and met Gabrielle and Keiran Conway, who hailed from Rhinebeck. Keiran was busy brushing his beautiful Percheron Friesian cross, Clyde, who had rolled in the mud before getting ready to show. Gabrielle stated that Clyde “lives with us” and is “just a dream — he’s got the best personality, is easy to drive, and knows his job. He gets to the furrow and stays alongside — and I’m hardly steering!”
The Conways have had the 12-year-old Clyde for about two years. This is the first Spring Plow Day they’ve attended with him (they were here for the Corn Harvest in the fall.) In addition to the HVDHA, they are also members of the Mid-Hudson Driving Association. Keiran explained that they were heading to Connecticut for another event the next day, as Clyde is so well-behaved and had done a lot of sled driving all winter so he’s in good shape. “We don’t want to give him a swelled head, but he’s a great, great horse. We bought him about two years ago in Connecticut where he did carriage rides and weddings. His mate had gotten too old to drive (she was older) so he hadn’t driven in two years, and never as a single. We just hitched him to a Conneticut carriage, and went down the road. A big yellow school bus passed, but he never fussed. He’d never been ridden much; I got in the saddle and gave a little squeeze and he backed up — but he does know voice commands. My son, who is quite large, rode him in a saddle that slipped off to the side — I pushed him back up and it didn’t bother the horse at all.”
We walked past Dennis Smyth and his beautiful spotted draft horses, Annabelle (age 14) and Ted, her sire, who is 18. Dennis has owned the colorful horses for about a year and a half and has put ‘a lot of miles’ on them.
At the far end field was a pair of mules, owned by Dave Gibaldi, of Montgomery, and Dave Denman, from Pine Bush. The mules are both in their late teens to 20 years of age, and are named Neenah and Gypsy. Both are members of the HVDHA; Dave Denman has been working with mules for 30 years, and has been enjoying helping Dave Gibaldi, who came to him for help, for the past couple of years.
A beautiful gray Percheron-Quarterhorse cross, owned by Rick Gray, was standing calmly below the end of field. Rick was letting people try their hand at driving the 25-year-old, and I was thrilled to do so for the first time myself and find how easily he obeyed my commands! Rick lives close by, and is well known at Saunderskill Farms for providing hay rides from time to time; as well as for his saw mill and docile working Percherons.
Jim Gould, of Thompson, CT, brought his Clydesdales, who have traveled to Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, making up the 6th pair of horses of the day.
At the far end of the field were three Belgians, driven by Charlie Lent. His son, Chad, provide information on the horses — all there are about 15 years of age: Reuben, Blink and Rambo. Reuben and Blink had been “hitched most of their life”; Rambo has another teammate back at home. Some people believe that as long as they’re working together they’re a team; others say that a pair of working animals is a pair of two, not a team. The Lents hails from Germantown, NY, (“across the river in Columbia County”) and Charlie was an original member of the HVDHA club from back in 1981. They participate in parades, shows, hay rides and demonstrations, and have a breeding operation on their farm.
The Hudson Valley Draft Horse Association holds a number of fun events in addition to the monthly meetings coming up this summer, and the club is always looking for new members, whether or not they own draft horses, mules or oxen. The group will be back in late September for the Corn Harvest at Saunderskill Farms with many other events in-between.
For more information, please contact Robin Jurechko via email at, or call 845.294.9016 or 845.657.2032.