Plowing for the Record in Albert City

Enthusiasts work together to set new world records for horse plowing.

horse-drawn plowing

Teamsters participating in the horse-drawn plowing event have the opportunity to hitch their horses and set their plows just prior to the official plowing event.

Photo by Loretta Sorensen

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The horsepower that was once central to American farms drew several hundred teamsters and thousands of spectators to Albert City, Iowa, for the August 2016 Threshermen and Collectors Show. Two new world records were set at the event.

In spite of relentless downpours that muddied show grounds and repeatedly drenched visitors, show organizers executed two well-planned, once-in-a-lifetime plowing attempts featuring 120 horses and 27 mules plowing simultaneously, successfully setting new Guinness world records. Event Chairperson Kelli Kraft says she and her team describe the results of months of hard work preparing for the plowing events in one word: “incredible.”

“Everyone seemed to enjoy it, even though it was so wet and muddy,” Kelli says. “We started planning the draft horse plowing in October 2015 as a way to entertain people who were part of the wagon train during the show. We’ve had horses at the threshing show before, and every year horses are used for field events like threshing, digging potatoes and operating a pusher-header to combine wheat.”

Inspired by Aussies

Kelli credits Sue Glienke and her daughter, Cheyenne, for the idea of setting a Guinness record with horses. The original world record for plowing with horses was set in Yass, Australia, in spring 2014 with 28 horses. That record went by the wayside in 2015, when a United Kingdom group brought 84 draft horses together for a plowing event.

To qualify for a Guinness world record, a list of rules must be carefully observed. The guidelines include requirements for all the horses to simultaneously plow for at least one minute, with plows at a depth of at least 6 inches. All handlers were required to supply details about themselves, their plows and their horses. Two experienced timekeepers officiated and witnesses verified that rules were observed. The event lasted for 1 minute, 18 seconds.

“We had to apply to hold the event,” Kelli says. “It took about nine weeks for the request to be approved. Once we started promoting the draft horse plowing event, we began receiving requests from mule team owners to have a separate event for mules.”

Kelli’s group decided to submit a request to include saddle horses, mules and donkeys in their plowing event. Because that request was denied, they had to submit a separate request for the mule event.

“We didn’t get approval for that event until the last minute,” she says. “With all the rain, we weren’t able to plow with the mules until Sunday.”

Event well organized

With that many horses and mules, it wouldn’t have been surprising if chaos ruled the day. That wasn’t at all the case.

“We have eight core members of the Horsepower committee that we call our wheel team,” Kelli says. “Each one was in charge of one element of the event, like stalling and registration, parking and plowing and organizing a draft pony show.”

Committee members also oversaw the veterinarian who inspected every animal taking part in the event, as well as the processes of recording individual participant and horse details and organizing photography plans.

“We had some tents that didn’t survive the rainstorms that came through that week,” Kelli says. “But with everyone’s help, it all turned out well. We had 135 horses pre-registered and we probably lost a few people because of the weather, but most of them were determined to be part of the event anyway.”

Part of a world-class event

Al and Barb Gilmore, rural Pipestone, Minnesota, brought eight of their Percherons, planning to demonstrate a 12-horse plow hitch prior to the world record event. Although muddy conditions forced them to forego the 12-horse hitch on Friday and Saturday, the Gilmores were delighted to have an opportunity to take part in a world record event.

“We have about 20 Percherons on our farm,” Al says. “All our horses are registered and most are black. We raise five or six colts every year and get them started with a bit and harness. We keep some of them and sell some each year. We take part in an area wagon train here every year, so we knew people who also planned to be part of the event.”

The Gilmores don’t farm with their horses, but they do use farming activities to help train their animals. They also hold plowing and other horse-drawn implement demonstrations on their farm each year.

“If we don’t have time to use the horses for field work, we use our tractors,” Al says. “Our first draft horse was a draft-saddle horse cross. We were so happy with that horse that we soon made the transition to draft horses.”

Once in a lifetime

Valerie Engelken, St. Joseph, Missouri, has used her Fjords to plow, disc, mow and give carriage rides since 2008. The smaller size of the Fjords allows her to handle jobs like harnessing and handling the horses while enjoying all the typical activities associated with draft horses.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” Valerie says. “Fjords are a European, small draft breed, which meant they qualified to plow. Since I belong to a Missouri Draft Horse and Mule Club, I’ve competed in the Missouri state plowing contest before. I practiced plowing numerous times before it was time to go to Albert City.”

Horses for the plowing event came from Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Vintage horse-drawn implements, equipment and accessories were also on display.

Plowing through challenges

The August 2016 show also featured 284 vintage tractors, 109 antique trucks and cars, 60 gas engines, 74 miscellaneous exhibits and a wide variety of crafters and vendors. An estimated 14,000 people attend the three-day event each year.

Connie Reinert, Threshermen and Collectors Show Board of Directors member and advertising/promotions director, said the organization rented an additional 20 acres of land to accommodate the plowing event. In spite of the shower that erupted right before and went on during the draft horse plowing event, onlookers surrounded the perimeter of the field.

“People didn’t care if they were getting wet,” Connie says. “They were cheering and yelling. Everybody wanted it to happen.

“This year our show was different and that was okay,” Connie adds. “In 2017, our show will be more traditional. In a time when similar shows are shrinking, we’re proud that our show is plowing right through those growth challenges. We hope everyone who enjoyed the show will take time to share their appreciation with the many volunteers who give their time and talents to put on such a great event.” FC


For more information: Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show, Featuring Case 175th anniversary,
Aug. 10-13, 2017, Albert City, Iowa; (712) 843-2076;
email: info@albertcitythreshermen.com;
online at www.albertcitythreshermen.com.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at
sorensenlms@gmail.com.