BRITT | Christina Wagner, a native of Belmond, has always loved horses but never thought she would be driving one in a show ring.
However, for the past few years she has been participating in the Ladies Cart class at draft horses shows all over the Midwest -- including the Britt Draft Horse Show on Labor Day weekend.
"It's become an addiction," said the 2000 Belmond-Klemme High School graduate.
Wagner, a veterinarian who now lives in Springview, Minnesota, said her becoming part of the draft horse world was "totally random."
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After graduating from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, she had an internship at the Oakridge Equine Hospital in Oklahoma.
One of the veterinarians at Oakridge was Chad Zubron, who trains and shows Percheron draft horses with his wife, Melissa, and their family.
Wagner started going to shows where the Zubron Percherons were competing so she could help with the many tasks that needed to be done.
Four years ago Wagner joined another Percheron team, Shining Stars, which is owned by Dianna Marquardt of Pleasant Hill.
At first she worked behind the scenes at shows.
"I never, ever dreamed I would be the one up in the Ladies Cart," she said.
Then one day two years ago the woman who had been competing in Ladies Cart with the Shining Stars became ill. The team needed an immediate replacement.
Although Wagner had horses growing up, they were riding horses, not draft horses. She had only even driven a horse once before in her life.
Still, "They threw me in there," Wagner said.
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Jared Hanson of Chatfield, Minnesota, another member of the Shining Stars crew, trained her to drive.
Ladies Cart involves driving a single horse rather than a team.
Wagner said she can't imagine handling a team of six horses like Hanson does.
At first Wagner drove one of the older, more experienced horses in the ring.
Now she is working with a horse named Robbie, who she said "challenges me a lot more."
Wagner and Robbie placed first in Ladies Cart during the Minnesota State Fair this summer.
That was a big surprise for Wagner, whose goal is just to become a better driver from show to show.
"I'm usually not worried about what color ribbons I'm being given," she said.
Wagner said all the people on the crew get attached to the horses, noting each one has a unique personality.
Robbie "is spoiled rotten," Wagner said, admitting she's totally responsible for that.
"He loves to be petted and scratched," she said.
All the horses are "very, very gentle in the stalls," Wagner said.
However, "They do love their jobs" and can get excited right before a show, she said.
Wagner joked that the hardest part for women competing in Ladies Cart is "making sure your hat doesn't fall off."
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The women who drive carts in shows wear fancy dresses and hats.
This was a bit of an adjustment from Wagner, who said she's always been a tomboy and usually wears jeans.
Fortunately, Marquardt is the one who chooses the outfits for competition.
"Dianna has impeccable taste," Wagner said.
Marquardt is also very caring when it comes to the horses as well as the people on the team, she said.
Wagner said she loves competing in the Britt Draft Horse Show because it's such a short drive for her parents, Bill and Sherry Wagner of Belmond, and other relatives in the area.
Family members come to visit Wagner all three days of the Britt show.
Every year the Shining Stars compete in the Iowa State Fair and the Minnesota State Fair, which are both shortly before the Britt show.
Wagner said the state fairs are great venues, but "it gets very hectic at those places" because of the huge crowds.
Everyone looks forward to going to the Hancock County Fairgrounds, where they have time to grill out and socialize when they aren't competing, according to Wagner.
"It's very much a family atmosphere at Britt," she said.