My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Dutch Harness Horse Auction

Recently an Amish friend (we’ll call him Emmon) made a proposal to my husband…  He and some other horse-loving friends wanted to make their annual trip to Cloverdale, Indiana (a bit south of Indianapolis and two or three hours away) for their annual Dutch Harness Horse auction.  Their regular driver couldn’t make the trip.  Would we rent a 14-passenger van and take them, if they paid for the van, the fuel, and our motel room, etc.?  I’m always up for an auction of any kind, and my husband had nothing else planned—so off we went. 

The video at the top shows a bit of the action.  This particular auction draws buyers (nearly all Amish) from all over the Midwest for those who like the Dutch Harness breed. According to Wikipedia, “The Dutch Harness Horse is a warmblood breed of fine driving horse that has been developed in the Netherlands since the end of World War II.” It goes on to say this: “While with 40 sires and fewer than 2,000 broodmares the population is not large, Dutch Harness Horses are highly recognizable.  The Wikipedia article also explained why they have a distinctive, high-stepping trot:  “The forelegs are typically longer than the hind legs - by design - and as such the horse will ‘sink’ in the back and rise in the front. This quality is responsible for the powerful, active hind end and the great freedom in the forehand.”

The Dutch Harness breed has its fans, but also its detractors, I was told that many people think that they aren’t as good for the miles as the more common Standardbreds used by the locals for their buggies. One woman in our party said that Dutch Harness horses are “all show and no go.”  Others think that they are stubborn and distractible, a bit hard to control, with “poor brakes” unless trained very carefully.  Many of the horses in this sale were half Dutch and half Standardbred or some other type.

But I don’t go to auctions just for the auction!  I like to indulge in plenty of people-watching, and this event was no exception.  As a non-Amish “Englisher” I was in the minority at this event; probably 98% of those around me were Amish.  I took this shot with my phone (from farther away—I crop the photos later).  There was only a half-inch of sand on the floor of the arena, but these boys managed to make a sandbox out of it!

But this event was unusual—besides the northern Indiana Amish I see nearly every day, there were Amish from Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, and my favorite—Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  I took this shot of some of the Lancaster boys, with their straw hats unlike what the “local boys” wear here in Indiana.

But there was an auction going on, too!  I can listen to auctioneers for hours, especially at horse auctions.  Their descriptions of each horse, and their comments about them, amuse me endlessly.  This time I heard phrases like “a kitten in the barn but a tiger on the road!” and “boys’ horse deluxe with a lot of power” and “he will look just as good pulling your buggy to church as he will in the show ring.”

The names of the horses amuse me, too.  They range from the plain, like “Class Act” and “Firecracker,” to the more creative, like “Susquehanna County,” “I’m a Good Girl,” and “Mass Psychology.”

One of the stud horses in the Dutch Harness world is named “Winston.”  He is the superstar of the Dutch stud world; below is his two-page color spread in the auction catalog.  I heard his name at least a hundred times in two days!  A few dozen of his offspring were for sale, and they brought the best prices.  Three breeding shares were auctioned off (the chance to breed one mare a year to Winston) and they sold for around $8,000 to $10,000 apiece!

Emmon, who is a diehard horse guy, told me on the way home that one of his mares is a Winston offspring.  He also told me why Winston isn't pictured in his two-page spread, but rather a couple of his offspring.  Although Winston's offspring are gorgeous animals, Winston himself is "homely as a mud fence," as my dad used to say!

The horses really were amazing.  Many were “bay” (dark brown) or black, which is not the medium-brown color of the Standardbreds usually seen in my part of Indiana.  And with their heads held high and their high-stepping motion, they were a pleasure to watch.  Thanks for including us, Emmon!  I might want to make this horse sale an annual event.

P.S.  This group of Amish horse fans travel together regularly, and they have developed a funny tradition.  Whoever gets dropped off first (and it took an hour to drop everyone off, once we got back home)—they get everybody’s trash to throw away!  And people didn’t make it easy for them—some of the DQ bags were tossed into a puddle in the driveway!  Seems like a fair trade, though, for getting to bed an hour earlier.

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