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Britt Draft Horse Association strives to make its 41st annual show even better

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One year after its momentous 40th annual show, the board of directors of the Britt Draft Horse Association is gearing up to take its annual hitch show into its next 40 years and beyond, starting on Sept. 2-4 at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring the entire family and friends and just spend an afternoon or the entire weekend at an event you don’t usually see in this part of the country,” said Melodie Hiscocks, secretary/treasurer and one of eight board members of the association that runs it. “It’s not part of a fair, just a hitch show with the hitches, horses, and drivers that come from across the country. It’s a fun family attraction to cap off summer.”

Competing hitches can come from anywhere across North America and often have overseas influences. Hiscocks cited the example of the Blue Ribbon Days hitch, which competed last year and includes a gentleman who hails from Germany.

“Blue Ribbon Days will be back this year,” Hiscocks said. “We have some of the top hitches in the country participating here. We will have 17 that were here last year. Hitches may be the same (in name) as last year, but a lot of times, the horses have changed. With those top hitches, it’s great to have them come back. Many of them have been on the road all summer and have done some spring shows.”

She said that Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Nova Scotia, Canada will be among the states and provinces represented at this year’s 41st annual event. She explained that the Britt Draft Horse Show is unique in several respects. She cited men’s and ladies’ cart, team, unicorn, four-horse hitch, and six-horse hitch classes. Participants in the weekend show are required to participate in all of those classes in Britt. She said it makes for an interesting and well-rounded overall event.

“Many other places, they can just participate in the classes they choose, but in Britt we require that they participate in all of those classes,” she said.

Additionally, there is typically ample clamoring by hitches to compete in Britt because it is a qualifying show for the North American Classic Series six-horse hitch.

“Britt is one of the last shows for them at the end of the year, so it can be very important,” Hiscocks said.

The North American Classic Series six-horse hitch finals will be held in Shipshewana, Indiana, in mid-September, featuring hitches with top Belgian, Percheron, Clydesdale, and Shire horses. They often use the Britt show as a stepping stone to get there.

Draft horse shows are such a personal passion for Hiscocks and her husband that they recently returned from 10 days at the Iowa State Fair Draft Horse Show in Des Moines before delving fully back into the Britt show preparations.

“We’ve done that for 15 or 20 years and this for 40 years,” she said. “It’s just something we enjoy doing.”

Of keeping the excitement level high for the Britt Draft Horse Show every year, she said it comes down to the association’s dedicated board of directors and especially all of their volunteers.

“It’s a real passion,” Hiscocks said. “We’ve got a small board, but we all really enjoy it. We love the people. It’s like a family.”

She said that as soon as one year’s show ends, planning for the next year begins quickly in what she described as a year-long process. They evaluate the year’s show and discuss ways to improve it in the following year, send entry forms in January or February and then information packets to the accepted teams by May.

“Eighteen hitches is our maximum because of the barn space,” Hiscocks said. “Hitches that were here last year have the first chance to come back this year. If there are any cancellations or drop outs, holes can open up and there is a waiting list."

Those necessary volunteers consist of businesses, organizations, and individuals. They support the local show by sponsoring classes and providing monetary donations, among other things. They also help set up and tear down stalls as well as clean barns, grounds, and buildings before and after the event.

“It all depends a lot on volunteer people that help us throughout the year and especially before, at, and after the show,” Hiscocks said. “We have a lot of friends who help us tremendously. Without their support, there is no way we could do it.”

The volunteers donate hundreds of hours to put together one of the largest draft horse hitch shows in North America.

Gates will open at 7 a.m. each morning, so spectators can watch the crews ready the horses for competition. Competitions will be held in the ladies’ cart, men’s cart, team, unicorn, four-horse, and six-horse hitch classes.

There will be a youth and amateur show plus a senior drive four-hitch competition starting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2. There will be draft horse grandstand shows starting at 2 p.m. on Sept. 3 and 4.

The highlight of Sunday afternoon will be the competition of all 18 six-horse hitches in the arena at one time in the North American Classic Series six-horse hitch class, a qualifying class for the North American Classic Series six-horse hitch. Competitions will also be held in youth classes and halter classes.

Admission for Friday is $2 for adults and $1 for children age 6-12. Admission each day for Saturday and Sunday is $10 for adults and $1 for children age 6-12. Admission for children age 5 and under is free each day. A 10 a.m. church service will be held on Sunday.

Campgrounds will be open and available throughout the weekend events and lunch will be provided on the grounds. Show participants and spectators will also be able to visit the Hancock County Agricultural Museum, which will be open throughout the weekend show events. The museum features farm equipment, tools, and machines from a bygone era. The museum is typically open for Hobo Days, the Britt Draft Horse Show, and other special events at the fairgrounds during the year.

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at rob.hillesland@globegazette.com.

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