David Hershey seemed entirely at ease on Sunday as he and his crew hitched six massive horses to harnesses and leads at the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Dwarfed by the dapple gray to black Percherons but still clearly in charge, Hershey worked with tugs and tongues, double tree bars and leads as he turned six horses into one team.
The Huntingdon County man made getting ready for the six-horse hitch look easy.
Although the competition involving six draft horses, a large cart and a lot of strength and style only takes minutes in the Farm Show Complex Large Arena, it takes days of preparation.
Back home at Spring Mount Percherons farm in Warrior’s Mark, the horses were exercised to be ready to impress about 6,000 people in the arena. Then Hershey and his “pit crew” had to pack the tractor-trailer with seven 50-pound bags of grain, 35 bales of straw, 42 bales of shavings and everything from the tall black Scotch collars to the metal hames that give the horses a regal look.
Next, the horses, each weighing about 2,100 pounds, were loaded into a 51-foot trailer led by a 20-foot tractor. They were tied into stalls. Hershey got behind the wheel and the adventure began.
“They travel well,” said Hershey.”Once we get them here, we have a lot of work.”
Each horse is washed and clipped. Coats must be brushed, tails tied into buns and manes braided. Hershey himself wears a suit because “our horses are all dressed up so I need to do that too. I don’t want to look like a slob.”
The actual hitching for Sunday’s competition took two hours.
Percherons Grant, 3, and Silver, 4, both new to the Farm Show, served as the wheel horses who steered. They were hitched directly in right in front of the wagon, a long pole known as a tongue between them and double trees in front of that for hitching the next pair of horses.
Next came Jock and Mitch, both 7, as the swing or middle horses. Finally, Vader and Lucky, both 7, were hitched to the front as the lead horses.
Then it was show time. Hershey climbed up into his red wagon, took the leads into his hands and talked gently but firmly to his horses.
The crowd burst into applause as the power and grace of 24-horsepower in four six-horse hitches thundered around the Large Arena. Hershey had the only Percheron team, which competed against one Clydesdale team and two Belgian teams. As the gentle giants walked, trotted, turned around and even backed up on the command of the ringmaster, the crowd clapped. People also cheered took pictures and smiled.
A few minutes later, Hershey smiled broadly as he received first place, a blue ribbon and a $400 award. He smiled again as he and his team took a victory lap around the Large Arena as “Against the Wind” blared in the background.