The name of the Horse Progress Days (HPD) could be taken as an oxymoron or a contradiction, yet the goals of the incredible event refute such questions. The mission of HPD is “To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support sustainable small scale farming and land stewardship. To show draft animal power is possible, practical and profitable.”
The 2014 Horse Progress Days (HPD) at the site of the Mt. Hope Auction in Holmes County on July 4 and 5 drew a huge crowd to see the latest advancements in farming techniques using horses. The event has roots that run deep with the sect of people called Anabaptist, which included Amish and Mennonite, who held firm to their traditional way of farming with horses as the Industrial Revolution began to change agriculture. Equipment built by the machinery manufactures adapted as farming practices evolved with the use of tractors. This left a void in the availability of horse drawn equipment. With a desire to maintain their Christian faith and traditions that included farming with horses, the Amish repaired equipment as long as possible. That equipment eventually needed to be replaced and the Amish began building their own horse drawn equipment.
“In 1951, horses in North America had almost disappeared from farming. With the promotion of field events and the start of HPD, the number of horse farms in North America has grown steadily,” said Dale K. Stoltzfus of Leola, PA. “In the early years, the event did not have a name. A few organizers started talking and asked, ‘Shouldn’t we talk to some of the manufacturers of this new draft horse equipment and see if they would agree to bring their products to a central location and demonstrate them under working conditions?’”
The first official HPD was in 1994 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Today HPD rotates between five states that are home to 71% of the Amish population in North America: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. According to 2012 statistics, Ohio has the largest population of any U.S. state with 63,990 Amish. And, Holmes County, in northeast Ohio, has the largest Amish population of any one county. There is little wonder why Mt. Hope enjoys a large draw during Horse Progress Days.
According to Daniel Wengerd, HPD general coordinator from Dalton, this year’s crowd was well over 20,000 the first day, with just over 12,000 on day two including children, vendors and volunteers.
“We were blessed with beautiful weather and a wonderful team of 1,200 volunteers who carried out all of the responsibilities,” Wengerd said. “Beyond our mission statement, we are thankful for our Creator’s provisions through nature and the soil. The field demonstrations, seminars, interaction with international visitors and numerous vendors provided something for everyone.”
A three-day workshop was held prior to HPD with sessions including horse psychology, anatomy, grooming, harnessing safely, and collar fitting, along with hands-on driving. A pre-show tour was offered in the surrounding area of Mt Hope featuring six informative stops. The Delbert Miller family served as a tour host. The Wayne Wengerd family, owners of Pioneer Equipment of Dalton, provided their gracious hospitality. Pioneer is the largest company in the world manufacturing horse drawn farm equipment.
There was a fascinating tour stop at Behalt of Berlin to see the 265-foot Mural-in-the-Round that depicts Amish and Mennonite heritage in the world’s largest Amish community. The tour also featured stops at Coblentz Collar Ltd. and Bowman Harness Shop in Millersburg.
The most popular attractions of HPD were the equipment demonstrations. Crowds stood five and six deep around the fields to view the horses and equipment in action. The demonstrations included soil tilling and manure (both solid and liquid) spreading equipment. A four-bottom plow with a 12-up hitch captivated the audience. There were also education opportunities through logging operations.
Manufacturers from multiple states provided horse-drawn equipment. According to Willis Miller, Teamster Coordinator of Fredericksburg, area volunteers brought their draft horses to demonstrate the equipment.
“Our friends graciously brought 82 horses for the field work. There were 16 horses utilized for produce equipment. An additional 14 horses were used in the logging operations,” Miller said. “We had 40 volunteers who rode horse-back to handle traffic and parking. Drivers of 29 teams along with wagons provided shuttle serve between the parking lots and the show grounds.”
Both days of HPD were kicked off with the children’s Pony Express. Youngsters drove their harnessed ponies and carts in the parade with more than 50 participants each day. Paul and Rhoda Yoder’s two daughters, Hannah Marie and Lila Jane from the Mt Hope community, were part of the parade.
“The girls harnessed and hitched the pony at home and then drove the half mile to the show grounds. We thought it would be a great way for the girls to be involved in an event that promotes horsemanship. And, the memories will last a lifetime. This was a world-class event that brought together people of all denominations and from all over the world. This had a huge impact on our local economy,” Paul said.
The evening parade included seven six-horse hitches and one eight-horse hitch from several breeds pulling beautiful wagons. Three of the hitches came from Ontario, Canada. The parade’s master of ceremony described the attributes of each breed and how they could best be used.
A large contingency of international visitors came from 16 countries, many which stayed in local Amish homes.
HPD leaders have learned that many areas of the world that need the most assistance with food production do not have the necessary infrastructure to support western farming techniques. They do, however, have varying forms of indigenous animal power. HPD strives to promote farming practices to best harness that power. With this goal in mind, Tillers International of Scotts, Michigan along with their team of Milking Shorthorn oxen exhibited at HPD. Tillers International is doing extensive work in countries like Mozambique and Uganda where they are training thousands of farmers in animal husbandry.
“We were pleased to have such a large turnout of international visitors who could participate in our seminars. It seems as though farming with animals is a lost art in many countries, especially developing regions of the world,” said Levi Jay Beachy, coordinator of the seminars. “Give a man or woman a meal and you feed them for a day, give them a plow and some animal power and you feed them for a lifetime. Through HPD, we were able to assist our foreign friends with farming techniques that we’ve preserved through time.”