WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — Those not applauding were clicking cameras as the first horse teams came onto the track in front of the grandstand at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.
“Look how beautiful they are,” Annette Cox of Pittsburgh said as the first six-horse teams appeared at the Chuck Burns Memorial Six-Horse Hitch Classic Tuesday night.
There were eight teams of drivers and horses properly attired for the glamour of the show.
The six-horse teams had polished hooves, ribbons or tassels attached to manes and tails and even bells while drivers wore fancy western suits and hats pulling large, stylized wagons that weigh one ton or more.
“I just love the pageantry and I like the clothes they wear,” Cox said.
Prepping for a show may take a couple of hours to get the animals groomed, hitched and ready for the competition.
“I love doing the show with my dad and working as a team,” said Kimberly Gorton of Cambridge Springs, who was with one of the teams in the competition.
“It’s all work,” Jim Beck, Gorton’s father, said with a smile.
While there’s the splendor of the attire of the contestants — both human and horse — it comes down to how they work together.
The hitches are judged on how well the horses maneuver in unison with a wagon as well as backing the wagon as drivers would have been required to do when unloading goods that were delivered by wagon. Points are awarded based on how well the horses and driver work together as a team.
Competitor Nikki Rider, 21, of Claridon, Ohio, said she loves the show.
“It’s not many county fairs where you get to see six-horse teams,” said Rider, who has been driving teams since she was 15.
“I like the power” of the animals, Rider said of why she enjoys driving six draft horses, each of which may weigh up to a ton each.
While drivers such as Rider may like the horses’ power, for audience members Bill and Deanna Wagner of Sunville it’s just the spectacle.
“They’re just beautiful,” Deanna Wagner said.
“It’s just a fantastic sight to see,” Bill Wagner said.
Tuesday’s Chuck Burns Memorial Six-Horse Hitch Classic is named for the late Chuck Burns of Saegertown, former chairman of the Crawford County Fair’s Draft Horse Department. Burns passed away in an accident during a draft horse show during the 2017 fair.
Burns was instrumental in getting Crawford County to become a tour stop in the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series for 2017.
“This is really a good show because we’ve got competitors from as far as 300 miles away,” said Larry Honsberger, the show’s producer. “We’ve got teams from near Maryland, Ohio and Michigan.”
Started in 1987 to promote different draft horse breeds, the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series has six-horse hitch teams compete at state and county fairs and agricultural exhibitions for points.
The four highest point hitches in each of the three breeds — Percheron, Belgian and Clydesdale — compete in September at the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series Finals at the Oklahoma State Fair.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at [email protected].
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