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Harnessing true horsepower

Michealla Flint, 15, of Wolcott, leads Duke around and around as the 20-year-old Belgian draft horse powers one of the antique hay presses. They are part of ongoing demonstrations at the fair put on by the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association. At different times throughout the week, different teams of horses and drivers have harvested wheat and corn, plowed a field, pulled wagons around the fairground, and powered machinery.
“It’s nice to show people what the horses can do,” says Michealla, “and to show them that young people like me can actually do these sorts of tasks with these powerful animals.”
Flint learned to drive a team from her grandfather, Ronald LaRock, co-owner of Down to Earth Draft Horses, of Fairfield. LaRock speaks with evident pride when he describes how well Michealla placed and competed at the previous week’s Franklin County Fair Draft Horse Show. She’s grown up with horses and has been competing since she was at least five.
Once Michealla unhitches Duke from the hay press, it becomes even clearer how easily she handles a lot of horsepower. She holds Duke’s reins as she answers questions and stays completely calm, even as Duke whinnies excitedly, strains at the reins, and begins to get restless.
Back at the barn, she harnesses Duke up with his pal Cindy, a 16-year-old black Percheron, and works them around and around the stable area. Duke and Cindy don’t look alike — he’s taller, she’s shorter; he’s older, she’s younger; he’s the characteristic Belgian light chestnut, her coat is black — but in every other way they’re a perfectly matched pair. So much so that last week at Franklin County, they won Best Working Team of the fair.
“They are really bonded,” says LaRock, who’s been training Duke and Cindy together for the past four years. “They move at the same speed. If you watch their feet, you’ll see they go up together and they go down together. They know what each other’s gonna do. I don’t!” he laughs. “They do everything. We’re in the woods, we log, we sugar, you name it — weddings, parades. You name it, we do it.”
LaRock, 68, grew up working draft horses on the family farm near Enosburgh in the 1950s. “I worked horses with my dad. We had 40 of them at one time. No tractors. I had my own team at six or seven years old. I had the harnesses on a pulley my dad made, and I’d crank ’em up, crank ’em down and go out in the field.”
Down to Earth Draft Horses has been coming to the Addison County Fair for the past three years.
“It’s fun, working with horses,” says LaRock. “We work with them to home, but it’s nice to come here and see different horses, see different people, and visit and do different things. It’s just nice to be around people and see horses like this that can do anything and everything. And it’s nice to have my granddaughter working the horses with me.”
“The young ones gotta come in it,” LaRock adds. “We ain’t gonna live forever.”

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