Here come the gentle giants: Annual Draft Horse Classic comes to the fairgrounds this weekend |

Here come the gentle giants: Annual Draft Horse Classic comes to the fairgrounds this weekend

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector

Know And Go

WHAT: Draft Horse Classic And Harvest Fair

WHEN: Sept. 19 Through 22

Where: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 Mccourtney Road, Grass Valley

TICKETS: Harvest Fair and Western Music Fest are free, tickets for performances at


MORE INFO: or 530-273-6217

Draft Horse Performances:

Thursday – 6:30 p.m.

Friday – 6:30 p.m.

Saturday – 10 a.m.

Saturday – 6:30 p.m.

Sunday – 10 a.m.

Sunday – 4 p.m.

Western Music Fest:

Ongoing musical entertainment at the Pine Tree Stage beginning at noon on Friday and Saturday and at 11 a.m. on Sunday

The Nevada County Fairgrounds has a busy weekend in store with the annual Draft Horse Classic kicking off today and running through Sunday, Sept. 22.

For those, not “in the know,” a draft horse is a large horse that was bred to do the hard work of plowing and other difficult farm labor. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these “gentle giants” were imported to America from several countries, making up four of the five breeds still in use today. Percherons arrived from France, Belgians from Belgium, Shires from England and Clydesdales came from Scotland. The American Cream draft breed was developed exclusively in the U.S in the 1930s. The animals were used to “draft” or haul people, lumber and heavy equipment — many of these tasks were eventually replaced with tractors once the use of internal combustion engines became popular.

Today draft horses are most often recognized as the popular Budweiser Clydesdales and seen at Draft Horse competitions such as the Annual Draft Horse Classic taking place this weekend. Assistant Show Manager Eleanor Roberts has exhibited and been a participant in the Classic for over fifteen years. She said the Classic is a vital part of keeping the history and heritage of the draft horses alive, but it is also a lot of fun. “It is not a horseshow,” she said. “It’s an event. The goal of the Draft Horse Classic is to give spectators an experience as if they are right on the box of the wagon.”

The Nevada County Draft Horse Classic has the highest number of attendees of any draft horse show west of Denver, Colorado.

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“Grass Valley is very unique,” Roberts said. “Besides having the most beautiful fairgrounds in the state (in my opinion), you have the history of the draft horse with logging. It’s the basis of our country — horsepower.”

Roberts added the experience at the Classic is like having a pit pass at a car race. “You can walk around and talk to the exhibitors. We engage our spectators. We have people who come back year after year who do not have horses. They pick favorites and they come back and cheer them on.”

An exhibitor is anyone who “holds a line.” Roberts said they range in age from five to 75, adding, “You might find four generations of families showing horses all at the same time which is great, because it is important to engage the youth to carry on the industry and the tradition.” Barns are open the entire weekend, except right before and right after a performance for safety purposes. “Spectators are welcome to walk through the barns. The exhibitors are friendly and interested in engaging with people who come to see their horses”

To compete, draft horses must be at least 1,500 pounds, which Roberts said is actually on the small side. “They are called gentle giants for a reason,” she said. “They are huge and they are wonderful to be around.”

Events include farming horses and teams, pleasure driving and hitch horses. The horses and teams are judged in a variety of categories and there are six performances. In between performances, there is entertainment. Roberts said, “We have acts that come in between each class, so the ring is never empty. If someone buys a ticket, they will always see something going on for the two to two and a half hours. It’s amazing.”

Aside from the arena performances there is a horse shoeing competition, a harvest fair, an art show and a western trade show that includes vendors selling handmade jewelry, toys, soaps, and wooden frames, draft horse memorabilia, western wear, lawn ornaments, and western home décor and live music is scheduled at the Pine Tree Stage — all offered for free throughout the four-day classic weekend. Food will be available, with several Treat Street booths open as well.

Roberts said the competition means money for the winners as well as a unique plaque designed by local artist Judy Vargas. She added, “The Draft Horse Classic is part of the North American Six Horse Hitch Classic series. We are one of the qualifying shows to get to the final.”

Beyond the competition, Roberts said, the Draft Horse Classic has something for everyone, “This is an experience that affects everybody that comes. Whether you are a horse person or not. It is an experience that people remember for all different reasons. The horses always touch people in a different way, emotionally, but it brings people back to a time that they would not have experienced otherwise.” She continued, “It reminds you of what it was like. It is very much the same experience as when people see the Budweiser Clydesdale. It’s a wonderful experience, hearing the pounding of the hooves, and the tug chains rattling, you physically feel and hear the experience of horsepower.”

Come out to the fairgrounds and experience a part of American and Nevada County history and be sure to stop by the Gentle Giant Monument that sits at the entrance.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at

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