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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 19, 2010

Riding high and galloping strong in the race to victory

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Fringed hooves pounded out deliberate circles in the center ring at the fairgrounds on Tuesday.

Dozens competitors from around the state rode behind their Clydesdales and Percherons, vying for ribbons.

Each horse weighs about 2,000 pounds, said Jay Gessler, of Bowman Orchards.  The family uses its horses for hayrides in the fall and shows in the summer, he said.  They probably work their horses more than most of the other people showing, he said, adding that the Amish still use draft horses for farm labor.

“I just married into it,” he said of his work with horses.  Kristal Gessler, his wife, grew up with them and says they offer “a break from the real world.”

A slight woman wearing a flower-laden burgundy hat and matching fabric tied like the front of a skirt over her blue jeans, Gessler is commanding as she readies her favorite horse, Sergeant, for competition.  Asked how she is confident of her control over the one-ton animal, she taps on his bit.

“They’re gentle giants,” she says, adding that they can pull twice their weight.

“You just have to keep a tight line,” Brooke Arnold said of maintaining control.  Arnold, 16, is the youth representative for the Eastern Regional Draft Horse Association and she wears the title on a magenta sash tied beauty-queen style across her torso with a rhinestone crown on her head.

Reed thin with Pacific blue eyes and powder-blue boots, Arnold works with her grandparents’ four draft horses and says her favorite part of her year-long post as the youth representative is “just seeing the horses.”  After making the statement, she gazes out at the clouds of dust billowing after three sets of wagon wheels in the ring.

Contestants trot their horses along the fence, crossing on the diagonal of the ring and finally coming to stop in the center for judging.  The horses are judged on several things, Arnold said, including how high they step.

Both Arnold and Gessler paused for a shy second before answering that their favorite part of horsemanship is “everything.”

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