Our History

To encourage and promote the combination of animal power and the latest equipment innovations in an effort to support small scale farming and land stewardship. To show Draft Animal Power is possible, practical, and profitable.

This is the official mission statement of the annual horse farming event known as Horse Progress Days.

Horse Progress Days: Why? What For?

Dale K. Stoltzfus

Because of the success of Horse Progress Days, its 21 year history, and its history of attracting crowds of 20,000 and up, it is becoming more customary to think of horses and progress alongside one another. This idea of using horses to effect progress in farming is not new. From early in the history of mankind up until the turn of the century from 19th to 20th, and even through the transition to combustible engine power by the end of WWII, it was taken for granted that the God given gift of draft animal power would forever be a part of farms everywhere. And then came the tractor. First small ones that replicated horse drawn tasks by pulling the same equipment as the horses were pulling. And then the sizes of the tractors began to grow, and the size of ancillary tractor equipment grew alongside. And horse farmers found it harder and harder to find new equipment to replace equipment that was wearing out. The conventional wisdom had it that horse farming in the western world was done for.

But, that stubborn group of souls called Amish continued their efforts to weave their understandings of Christian Faith and traditions into their everyday lives, within the larger cultures and societies in which they lived. And a big part of the tradition of living out that faith was, and is, the use of horses to farm. And even though the big tractor equipment manufacturers more and more abandoned production of horse drawn farm equipment, the need for it never went away. And in empty spaces in barns and sheds on Amish farms, lads who felt at home with nuts and bolts and welders studied the equipment that their counterparts in the "modern" world were abandoning, and figured out ways to make it themselves. In the meantime, the numbers of individuals who were born Amish continued to grow and large numbers of young people in Amish communities chose to embrace the faith of their fathers and mothers so that from the year 1951 when horses in North America had almost disappeared from farming, to the year 2014, which marks the 21st time Horse Progress Days will be held, the number of horse farms in North America has grown steadily.

A closer look at the Horse Progress Days Mission Statement
"the latest equipment innovations"

From the original idea of getting a bunch of people together to see the horse farming equipment demonstrated that is coming from Amish shops, Horse Progress Days has grown into an event that can, with utmost integrity, make a statement that enthusiastically supports encouraging and promoting the use of horses (animal power) to farm. And, while western farmers and agri-business people have made the word innovation into something that is mainly used to market the latest and the greatest, the word is also appropriately used to describe the farming equipment the shop lads have come up with for use with horses. Much of the equipment used by today's horse farmers is superior in its materials and design to that which was offered by John Deere and Cyrus McCormick back when they and others were pumping out piles of horse farming equipment. This is true due to the fact that there have been improvements in the components used to make it. And the makers of horse drawn equipment have put large amounts of time and effort into improving the way it works. This could be the subject of another article; there isn't enough time or space here, but one example, at least, maybe two or three would be better.

Just about when there could have been more time and effort put into designing a plow moldboard that would be easier to pull through the dirt by reducing the friction between the moldboard and the dirt, gasoline powered tractors came along. Fuel was cheap and there was plenty of power, so making the plow more efficient wasn't a big issue, especially for US farmers. And then a few years ago the Pioneer Equipment Company of Dalton Ohio began to think about this issue and began to look for a solution. They found it in a moldboard from a Norwegian manufacturer of farm equipment called Kvernland. This is a large international manufacturer of all types of farm equipment. In Norway fuel has always been expensive. So any improvement in the efficiency of a plow board sliding through the ground is important, since it would improve fuel efficiency. And so the Pioneer Company, a large company in Dalton Ohio devoted solely to the production of horse drawn equipment, introduced the Kvernland plow bottom to their plows, and other plow manufacturers began to offer Kvernland bottoms on their plows. And then there is the White Horse Machinery Company in White Horse PA. This company is keeping its ear firmly to the ground on the issue of tillage. They are aware of the constant criticism leveled at plowing enthusiasts in this day and age of "conservation" farming, otherwise known as no till. A year or so ago they began working on a plow moldboard of their own design. This moldboard is made to be used with healthy cover crops. Its design is such that it is meant to turn the soil over just enough so that it is standing on its side; the cover crop is not completely turned under. This allows the soil to absorb high levels of rainfall and to resist wind erosion in the event that these types of conditions prevail before final seed bed preparations can be made. And one more; I&J Manufacturing of Gap, PA offers a ground drive sickle bar mower as an alternative to the popular McCormack Deering ground drive mowers which are becoming harder to find and repair. But, the I&J mower comes with a scissors type sickle blade bar that consists of two blade bars working opposite one another. And, the blades are designed to be offset from one another on the bar so that the ground drive power needed to cut the hay is diluted a great deal. The actual cutting of the stalks, instead of all happening at the same time as with the traditional blade and guard model, is staggered. Instead of the stalks being caught between the blades and a guard to slice them off, they are wedged between two blades and cut. Again, a great reduction in power is needed for this type of cutting arrangement. And while the frame and final design of the mower comes from I&J, the sickle bar is imported from Germany. Is our present day horse farming equipment innovative?

"effort to support small scale farming and land stewardship"

Horse farming, by nature, is on the smaller side. One person farming large numbers of acres with horses is not practical. Small farms managed for peak performance support good land stewardship. Production per acre is generally much higher on small, intensely managed farms than on mega farms. Horse farms have the added benefit of horse manure to replenish nutrients taken from the soil when crops are harvested. Small scale farming supports the local community since it may take 10 farmers to farm 1000 acres of land rather than one. Imagine what this kind of farming will do for rural communities as horse farming becomes more commonplace again. Another whole article could be written about the land stewardship benefits of horse farming, but that will have to wait. Suffice it to say for now, Horse Progress Days means to do all it can to support this part of the mission statement.

"to show that Draft Animal Power is possible, practical, and profitable"

This is probably the most important part of the mission statement for Horse Progress Days. As to possible, there are now examples of successful horse farming operations all over the US and Canada. There are Amish communities in more states and provinces than at any previous time. The farms in these communities are all horse farms. Horse Progress Days is actually only a representation of what is already happening every day on horse farms in North America. What more evidence is needed to support the fact that horse farming is possible? Anyone who is not convinced of it only needs to attend Horse Progress Days and see it for themselves. And then there is practical.

One of the first things that come to mind is the comparison of horse farming to tractor farming with regard to the environment. While many modern horse farms do use gasoline or diesel
engines behind horses, the amount of fuel consumed for comparable tasks is much less on horse farms than on tractor farms. This is good for the environment. And then there is the issue of soil compaction. Horses hooves are so much smaller than even the smallest of tractor tires, and the weight of a team of horses is spread out over a large area instead of concentrated under a tire bearing up a heavy load of steel and aluminum. And there is the aforementioned benefit of horse manure to replenish soils. Consider this; everything it takes to make and sustain a horse comes from the earth. And horses replace themselves! And even when they die, their carcasses can safely be broken down by the forces of nature to nurture the earth one more time. And so horses take from the earth and give back to it. In the meantime they provide the power needed for a farmer to care for, to "farm" the earth. Tractors? Everything needed to make a tractor comes from the earth as well, as does the fuel it takes to make it work. And all the steel, plastic, spark plugs, wires, rubber it takes to make a tractor, all of it comes from the earth, all of it. And when it no longer functions or is replaced by something "better", where does it go? Does it give anything back to the earth as it deteriorates in some landfill somewhere? The thing the horse and the tractor have in common on the farm is providing the forward power needed to make the equipment work that is attached to it, and both do it well. But the horse keeps giving back to the earth in equal measure everything it takes from it. How can this be considered anything but practical? And then there is the profitable part.

To support this part of the Horse Progress Days mission statement properly there needs to be an article written that establishes the cost of operating a horse farm and the bottom line profits that go with it. This can be a challenge since the actual value of a horse goes up as it ages before it declines because of old age, while the value of a tractor goes down steadily from the day it is put into operation. Consider this, a farmer is hauling manure with a young team and as he uses them and trains them they become more valuable. And the manure he is hauling will benefit the land by way of fertilizing it. How does he know which side of the ledger to put his time on? And is the manure he is hauling an expense or an asset? What about the feed he gives his horses, and the bedding he uses? It all turns into manure. How does he decide which side of the ledger to post it on? In these instances it is clear that once again, the horse is giving back to the operation much more than just forward motion for the equipment he is pulling. So it seems the farmer needs to ere on the side of profit when posting. And then there is the fact that, as was mentioned earlier, horse farming communities have grown significantly over the past 30 years or so while tractor farms have declined. This means that those farming with horses have been able to buy farms and keep them profitable at a time when tractor farmers have been giving up in droves. In Lancaster County Pennsylvania, where I live and where I had been actively involved in Real Estate sales for over 20 years, this is just as true as in other parts of the country. I helped many horse farmers buy farms in this area. At first the prices were around $5000 per acre, now they are more like $20,000 per acre. It is not uncommon for a horse farmer to pay as high as $2,000,000 and more for a working farm in Lancaster County. This area, located within an easy drive of several major metropolitan areas and itself blessed with a vibrantly diverse economic climate, has, in the year 2014, more operating
horse farms than at any time since the early 1950s when horse populations bottomed out in North America. So what do you think; is horse farming profitable?



An Eighteen Year History

(first published 2011)

By Dale K. Stoltzfus.

A good question for any ongoing endeavor is this; how did we get here? With this year being the 18th annual event, we now have the luxury, or is it the duty, to look back and consider our history.

First of all, the real test for any good idea is; can it survive those who had the original vision? If we apply this question to Horse Progress Days the answer is obvious, and it is a resounding yes!

Many supporters of Horse Progress Days are unaware of the birth pangs and growing pains that have been endured on the way to this 15th annual event. While there are many individuals who deserve credit and recognition along the way for their unswerving support in terms of planning and execution, those of you who have attended the event, paid the gate fee, and purchased equipment from all the manufacturers and vendors are the ones who have ensured its ongoing success. Without you, there would most certainly be no Horse Progress Days. It is your continued support that gives all the planners along the way the courage to go on. This event seems to have a life of its own, at times insisting to go on in spite of those in charge of carrying it out, rather than because of them!

The idea for Horse Progress Days was brewing in the minds of a few important Draft Horse people for some years before the first event was held in 1994. In those days it didnt even have a name, it was just an idea, like; shouldnt 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 where we could get some well broke teams to work it in the fields and demonstrate it? What an exciting thought! The big tractor equipment companies were no longer making equipment to farm with horses, so enterprising Amish farmers had begun to make it themselves, many times in a shop behind the barn. Indeed, the idea pierced in the minds of people like Maurice Telleen of The Draft Horse Journal, Ralph Chattin, mule man from Tennessee, Elmer Lapp horse farmer in Lancaster PA, Eli J.C. Yoder long time Draft Horse promoter from Sugarcreek OH, and several others who were involved with the national Draft Horse and Mule Association. It was this association who took it upon themselves to launch the event that eventually became known as Horse Progress Days.

The level of excitement at that very first event in 1994 was high. It was held at the farm of Elmer Lapp in Kinzers, Lancaster County, PA. Art Riest of Lancaster, PA, was president of the Draft Horse and Mule association at the time. Maury Telleen did a lengthy report in the Draft Horse Journal in which he said it would be a shame if the first (event) were to be the last. This should become an annual event, and like the big farm progress shows, move around the country, giving farmers in different areas a look at what our Henry Fords and Thomas Edisons in the horse machinery business are up to. He could not have known how literally his words would be taken since this is exactly what has occurred. If you are ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit with this little giant of the Draft Horse business, Maurice Telleen, you will want to thank him for the tireless efforts he and his good wife Jeanine have made on behalf of the industry for these many years. He will modestly shake his head and point out that there have been many others who played important roles as well, and then change the subject. Many others have, of course, played an important part, but none have worked quite as hard, traveled as many miles, or spoken and written so well in guiding the Draft Horse renaissance as this pair. History will prove it so and already has.

The 1995 Horse Progress Days, the second, was held in Northern Indiana at the Floyd Bontrager farm. Floyd was a director on the board of the Draft Horse and Mule Association at the time. This is the year that had guests shuttling from the farm to the fairgrounds. Field demonstrations took place at the farm and seminars at the fairgrounds. By the time the dust had settled the planners worst fears were a reality; there was a drought of funds available to cover the costs. Now there were some hard decisions to be made. To stop, meant the deficit would need to be made up somehow. To go on, did not guarantee that conditions would be any better, maybe even worse, by the end of the next event. Except; there was all that enthusiasm from those who had attended, and there was Maury Telleen and his Draft Horse Journal. In his wisdom, 10 pages of the autumn edition were dedicated to a stimulating report of the people and equipment at the event. The effect of this report was not lost on his 20,000 some subscribers, and its effects were felt the next year and have been every year since. The Draft Horse Journal under Maury and his son Lynn has faithfully provided top notch coverage every year from the very first on. Thankfully, two other very important publications in the Draft Horse Industry have also done comprehensive reports over the years; Rural Heritage published in Tennessee and Small Farmers Journal published in Oregon.

In 1996 the event was held at the LaGrange County Fairgrounds and some of the deficit made up. The decision was then made to go to Mt. Hope, OH in 1997. The title of the report for 1997 in DHJ is A smashing success-an estimated 8000 people. Excitement and optimism exudes from Maurys report in DHJ for the 1997 event in which he reports that it will be held at the same place in 1998 and then go to PA in 1999. The history of the financial position of the event is that OH managed to cover the entire deficit and pass it on to PA with a budget surplus. For this we congratulate Eli J. C. Yoder and Wayne Wengerd and all the hardy souls who helped so well. Among all of the various locations the event has been held, Ohio is the Granddaddy. The Ohio group has become somewhat of a fraternity, getting together every year for a summer picnic. Many lasting and ongoing friendships have been the result. The combination of the largest horse drawn equipment manufacturer (Pioneer) and one of the largest sale barn facilities (Mt. Hope) along with the largest concentration of Amish folk in the world is a potent mixture which has in the past resulted in major successes. Incidentally, this year of 2008 marks the 35th year of operation for the folks at Pioneer Equipment. Congratulations are in order.

Horse Progress Days 1998, It just keeps getting better and better reads the report in the Draft Horse Journal. The crowd was estimated at 8,000-10,000, even bigger than the year before. From there the event went to PA where it stayed for two years, then on to Southern Indiana, Central IL, Northern IN, PA and MI. The rotation is now established. Two of Maurys ideas listed in some of the first reports of HPD have come to fruition. The first is that the event has moved around the country to benefit many horse farmers in many different locales, and the second is that many horse farmers from other parts of the world have been in attendance over the years. At the 2000 event held in Kinzers, PA there was a group of 26 from Sweden. 16 from Germany and others from France, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, the Philippines, Denmark, Ghana, and Canada. This is probably the largest delegation of foreign visitors ever, but every year finds several new ones in attendance. Several years ago the board of directors decided to institute a meeting specifically for international guests where time could be taken to meet with them and exchange greetings and customs. This has proven to be rewarding for all.

Between the years of 1997 and 2001 there was some uncertainty as to who was officially responsible for Horse Progress Days. It was during this time period that the president of the Horse and Mule Association handed in a letter of resignation. In the meantime the vice president never officially filled the position of president, and so for all intents and purposes this organization was defunct by default. It had served its purpose to a great extent. Two of the ideas it hatched and instituted are still in existence today. Draft Horsemanship schools were first thought of and instituted by this association. They have been taken up in various parts of the country by a variety of horsemen and women and provide a very important learning tool in a culture that can no longer, for the most part, depend on the older generation passing on horse knowledge to the younger. Horse Progress Days is the second jewel in the crown of the now extinct association.

Truly, for quite a number of years the planning and execution of this event was left solely up to the local planners with very little help from anywhere else. In 2000 and 2001 a series of meetings were held by a small group of individuals who had an altruistic interest in seeing this event succeed. Eli J.C. Yoder and Floyd Bontrager were the only representatives from the old association in attendance. They were joined by several others at a meeting held at Tiffanys Restaurant in Topeka, IN the spring of 2000. By December 5 of 2001 a new board of directors had taken shape. It was made up of Floyd Bontrager - Pres., Elmer Lapp -Vice Pres., Eli JC Yoder - Treas., Dale K. Stoltzfus - Secty, and Jeff James - Member-at-Large. In time this group established the event as a non-profit entity, drew up some by-laws, and established an official bank account. Over the years the local movers and shakers in the various communities where the event is held have been given free rein and encouraged to take the major part of the responsibility for the event. This helps it to take on the flavor of the local community in which it is held. The Board of Directors sees itself as a resource to the local planners, helping by providing guidance and ideas learned from various other locales. In 2007 the board established the position of Information Director and appointed Dale K. Stoltzfus to fill it. A job description was drawn up which included producing the Information Guide you have in your hand and coordinating advertising among other things.

Once again, you who attend and support this event are the reason for its success. By your attendance, interest, and purchase of equipment you ensure the ongoing vitality of Horse Progress Days. You have insisted by your support that it continue, even when it was on shaky ground. The manufacturers of this equipment wish to thank you for your support. This event provides a place for them to exchange ideas with one another and listen to your suggestions. It provides them a place to introduce new pieces of equipment and new innovations they have incorporated into their machines.Fifteen years is somewhat of a milestone. Two of the original men behind this great event are no longer with us; Elmer Lapp and Eli JC Yoder.

The true test of any idea is whether or not it outlives those who gave it birth.

The jury is in.


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