(VIDEO) Celebrating Nevada County’s agricultural ties with the Draft Horse Classic | TheUnion.com

(VIDEO) Celebrating Nevada County’s agricultural ties with the Draft Horse Classic

Know & Go

What: 29th annual Draft Horse Classic

When: Today-Sunday

Where: Nevada County Fairgrounds

Info: http://nevadacountyfair.com or 530-273-6217

The Draft Horse Classic, now in its 29th installation, returns Thursday to the Nevada County Fairgrounds for any residents who want to get “up close and personal” with the large-bred creatures that have strong ties to western Nevada County.

“It represents the roots of agriculture in our community,” said Wendy Oaks, publicist of Nevada County Fairgrounds. “It has become the premiere draft horse show in western United States over the years. Exhibitors come from all over the country and from Canada. It’s an honor for the community to host a draft horse show of this scale.”

The event will run from Thursday through Sunday. The annual festivities offer six performances and non-stop specialty acts in between classes. The first draft horse performance begins at 6:30 p.m. today.

In addition, the Harvest Fair, which takes place alongside the draft horse performances, will feature live music entertainment, horseshoeing competitions, barn tours, a clogging jamboree, an art exhibit, and numerous food vendors with fresh farm products.

“There are so many people who have never been near big horses, many children don’t know them. We love to have people come and see them personally. We love the expressions on children’s faces.”Sandy Higginbotham

“This is not your typical horse show, “said fairgrounds Deputy Manager Robin Hauck, “there’s no down time.”

Customers are required to purchase tickets to see the performances, but the Harvest Fair is free — aside from a $5 parking fee. Since 1987, the four-day draft horse show has attracted an average of 15,000 visitors annually and has become a stomping ground for about 53 exhibitors per year.

The first Draft Horse Classic was initiated by a group of local exhibitors who wanted to put together a display for the muscular, broad-shouldered steeds known on the pastures as “gentle giants,” Hauck said.

“Draft horses are suitable for ranching and farming because they are larger than the common light horses,” said Hauck. “In Nevada County, they were traditionally used for logging.”

A gentle giant could grow as tall as 16 to 20 hands in height, which equals to 64 to 80 inches, said Hauck, and because of their docile temperament and strength, the draft horses are ideal helping hands on farms. They performed heavy tasks such as plowing fields and pulling loads.

In fact, it was the love for this magnificent animal that prompted Sandy Higginbotham and her friends to start Empire Horse and Carriage Co. LLC. in 2003.

“Some people took up golfing, we took up horses,” said Higginbotham, a government employee who moved to Nevada County from Southern California after her retirement.

Empire Horse and Carriage Company, which is based in Grass Valley, offers horses and carriages services for different family and social events. It was formed by three couples who shared similar interest, Higginbotham said.

“We are for hire, but we do it for fun,” said Higginbotham, whose friends came from various locations of Colfax, San Jose and Sunnyvale. This is the seventh year that Higginbotham has participated in the Draft Horse Classic performances, but what she found important never changed.

“There are so many people who have never been near big horses, many children don’t know them,” Higginbotham said. “We love to have people come and see them personally. We love the expressions on children’s faces.”

In the past, the draft show has attracted the likes of the Budweiser Clydesdales, which visited the county in 2007.

This year the in-house artist is Gladius the Show, a performing equestrian troupe from Las Vegas, said Hauck.

Erik Martonovich and Alethea Shelton created the traveling acrobatic team in 1997.

Their shows combine circus, theater art and equestrian performances. Hauck said the team will put on a performance every night.

In addition, local favorites such as California Cowgirls will also take up the stage. Other performers include the Gold Rush Fire Brigade, Sidewinder, Sourdough Slim, Harmonious Combustion and Buffalo Gal.

Bounty of the County, an activity that combines local chefs and the products of Nevada County Grown farmers and ranchers, will begin on Saturday. A Classic Rib Cook off will take place on Sunday.

“This county is all about big horses and country living,” Higginbotham said.

To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, email tliu@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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