Horse Progress Days
It was the weekend before the fourth of July and ten thousand people descended on Montgomery, Indiana for the 8th annual Horse Progress Days. There can be no doubt that this revolving event is the premiere international showcase for animal-powered agriculture. The previous two years it was held in the Lancaster area of PA. Before that, two years in Mt. Hope, OH and before that Indiana. The governing committee for the event has wisely chosen to revolve or rotate the location through Amish communities.
There is, for my money, no more dramatic, clear view of the powerfully pertinent and viable future of the work horse than Horse Progress Days. And I was fortunate to have a dandy view. This year I was honored and graced to be asked to assist in announcing the field trials at Horse Progress Days 2003 in Mt. Hope, Ohio. Floyd Bontrager, Dale Stoltzfus, Raymond Yoder, and I shared the field microphone in an auctioneer’s pickup for two glorious days.
All the good implements were on hand with a few new surprises. There was a bale accumulator, all gravity – which gathered 10 bales to one spot. And I & J showed a cover crop roller especially designed to flatten and crush thick cereal rye before no-till corn planting. This tool had resulted from research done at the Rodale Institute. Pioneer, White Horse Machine, Shipse Farm Supply, Gateway, Hogback produce and all the other manufacturers put on an excellent field display.
Although this journal goes to many parts of the world and features many interesting features on farming methods in other countries, it is nonetheless a very American publication, so it was with some trepidation that I, as an Englishman, offered to write a report on the foremost work horse event in the United States, the Horse Progress Days. For more than a decade this is the event that I have most wanted to visit, and as it has grown in size and stature, reading the reports, seeing the pictures, and watching the films only increased my desire to make the trip over the Atlantic. So it was with no little anticipation that I arrived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in late June this year, and with great excitement descended the steep grassy slope from the car park above the Henry King farm.
As I drove south in a rental car from Champaign to Arcola, and began to transition into the landscape stewarded by local Amish communities, subtle shifts began to appear in the land use patterns. Of course, the first noticeable change was that the farms had horses – and lots of them – big drafts for work in the fields, saddle horses, trotters for the buggies, and minis and ponies to haul the kids around in carts and to give first lessons in the joys and responsibilities of horsemanship.
This is my third Horse Progress Days, including 2008 in Mount Hope, Ohio, and 2016 in Howe, Indiana. We could note a few trends in a nutshell — how tall draft horses are back, and miniature horses (which are not stocky ponies but perfectly proportioned horses more pleasing to the eye) are being bred to ever more refined and useful conformations. How the current style for most big draft horses is to have their tails severely docked, though the tails of miniature horses are left long. By way of footwear these days there seem to be few of the brightly colored Crocs for the whole family, but gray and black Crocs aplenty. One huge change over three years ago is that here were as many bicycles, with and without baskets and trailers (and some with batteries and motors), as the dark square family buggies drawn by identical lean brown trotters and pacers. Bicyclers include both youthful and older farmers, using this healthy and efficient form of transportation to get around.
I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.
And there we were, in open rolling country a few miles shy of Montgomery, Indiana, approaching Dinky’s Auction Center, the host for this year’s Horse Progress Days. This is the 28th year for the event, missing only 2020, that is rotated through the Amish communities in five states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – usually taking place on two days, before the 4th of July. It is an event to showcase the modern utility of animal power in farming, featuring the latest equipment and the best in animal training and performance.
This event is about showcasing new innovations in animal power but it is also a place to show-case ingenuity, inventiveness, plus tools, parts and pieces. From my many visits to this stellar annual event I have long known that folks travel here specifically to shop for equipment. So I thought to gather some pictures and info from that perspective. If I had the money and were shopping, what items would I want to put on my shopping list? I found some I needed, some I wanted, some I felt drawn to and a few without justification.
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