When the DeKalb County Free Fall Fair takes place this week, hundreds of people will tour the Draft Horse Barn to marvel at these “gentle giants” who once fueled the agricultural industry.

These horses, which are twice the size of a riding horse, are pretty impressive up close.

What most visitors don’t see is the work of the exhibition exhibitors to bring the animals to the fair. The days before the fair are busy for our family as we prepare our Belgian draft horses for the show ring.

Budding Belgians will have six horses in the draft horse stable: our mare: Lillie and her foal Tulip Moana; and four geldings, Dan, Chip, Dale and Wally. Tulip was born on May 31st and will stand in a box with her mother. She will be a popular place to go for petting children and adults.

Belgians have already gone to the blacksmith for their pedicures. Your hooves are trimmed, shaped, and filed smooth (think of a giant fingernail file) to make the best impression on the judge. Our horses are trimmed roughly every six to eight weeks, year round, to keep their feet safe and sound.

Every Belgian gets a bath today, the day of the fair check-in, and the mane and tail are deburred and combed. Washing a Belgian is like washing a pickup truck – the whole family lends a hand to prepare each horse for the ride into town.

The whole family will also lend a hand during the week of the fair. My husband Lowell, son Jeremy, daughter Dawn and son-in-law Kerry Yingling are all responsible for showing the horses in the show ring. I’m the chief operations officer, cleaning the harness, packing supplies for the cleaning tray and making sure my two-step ladder is at hand to comb the mane on the heads of the Belgians. We all ensure that the stands are clean for our trade fair visitors all week long.

For a number of years we had the help of 4-H members who signed up for the draft horse project through the Doubletree 4-H Club. The draft horse project is the only animal project where the 4-H member does not have to own the animal. In DeKalb County, 4-H members who do not own a draft horse are matched with a member of the DeKalb County Horsemen’s Association to “borrow” a horse for the graduation show and learn from the adult volunteers.

Here are some photos from our trade fair experience in recent years. See you at the fair!