The Jugtown Mountain string Band performed at the event. Photo by Renata Barnes.

Howell Living History Farm bade summer farewell and welcomed in the autumn season by hosting the 39th Annual Howell Farm Plowing Match. That’s right, human and beast partnered in teams to best other teams, in a sport, of sorts, whose roots are steeped in tradition, agriculture, and necessity. But before you dismiss an event like this as mind-numbingly dull, like waiting for the hair to fill in Uncle Ruddy’s bald spot, you’d be wrong. The nine driver-and-hitch teams from the NJ/PA area came out and showed out. With standards to meet, like depth and width of the furrows made, as well as the uniformity of said furrows in length and in uniformity of end point, this competition displays the importance and depth of the communication between driver and horse.

Categories such as Draft may be new to many of us outside of Happy Hour. Here, “Draft” means how well the animals move and work together. Obviously, this is paramount when plowing a field and something the farmer has to assess when training a team. Steadiness and Control were also judged. Does the driver have to spend a lot of time and effort correcting pacing, to speed up his team or slow them down? In the category of Control, the team and the driver are judged on how responsive the horses are to voice commands and their comprehension of the task before them, which reflects on the clarity of the driver’s command.

Plowing Match winners Rocky Meckes, Kevin Watson, and Scott Stevens. Photo by Renata Barnes.

Rocky Meckes took home the 1st prize ribbon in the plowing match. He and his team of Percherons, Dick & Jerry, join the pantheon of former winners like Aaron Vastine with Clydesdales, Duke & Lady and Pat Hlubik and the Brabants, Ellemae, Barber & Kitty. Kevin Watson drove the Howell Farm team of Pete & Jebb to a respectable 2nd place finish and received plenty of hometeam love. The third place plowing winner was Scott Stevens of Brodheadsville, Pa.

The Winner of Obstacle Course Driving was Stephen Burkholder of Fleetwood, Pa.; second place was Scott Stevens and Howell Farm’s own Kevin Watson took third.

There was also an obstacle course competition with driver and hitch teams navigating a course and tasks designed to test both driver and horse, individually and as a unit. This timed challenge featured slight terrain changes, speeds, turns, various lanes widths, reverse (basically parallel parking) and so on. Teams led by both men and women deftly maneuvered inside the lines, avoiding knocking over cones topped with tennis balls. Calls of “Gee” and “Haw” (right and left, respectively) or some form of it, could be heard along the course, as well as the universal call “steady”.

If you have an opportunity to attend the 40th Annual Howell Farm Plowing Match, you should make it a point to do so. The intersectionality of the past and the present, coupled with the mutually beneficial bond between humans and animals, was clearly evident in the display of teamwork, respect, and accomplishment.

Please enjoy more photos of the competition, taken by Mike Chipowksy, here:

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Renata Barnes
Renata is the author of "The Taste Chase," MercerMe's own food review column. She's a lover of all things poetic, colorful, funny and inspiring. A native New Yorker, who grew up in Hopewell Valley and spent the better part of her adulthood back in NYC, currently finds herself in a growing love relationship with “the Valley”. Latin food, Indian saris and mehndi, French perfume, African music, Middle Eastern spices, South American jewels, Asian fabrics and anything from just about any island (maybe not Riker’s Island) are things that remind her to go out and taste the world, live passionately and always wear deodorant. The mother of one rambunctious boy and the wife of a mellow fellow, Renata tries to put her too many years of university and her film and writing talents to good use here in NJ. “I’ve spent too much time trying to fit in some where when I probably belong everywhere. That slow revelation has been freeing.”

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