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.