Just for show

Photo courtesy of Barhorst Belgians

Belgians — those big draft horses with gentle dispositions — are beautiful. Just ask brothers George and Ted Barhorst of Fort Loramie. The Barhorst family was honored at the 2017 Ohio State Fair for 75 years of showing Belgian horses. Their grandfather, Bernard Barhorst, started the tradition, which continues today.

“I don’t ever remember a time when we didn’t raise, breed, and show Belgians,” Ted says. “We have 12 of them right now.”

The brothers grew up on a 240-acre farm in the heart of Pioneer Electric Cooperative territory. Their father, Urban Barhorst, preferred to work with a tractor, but Urban’s brother, Joe, favored horsepower and never set foot on a tractor.

George recalls his first trip to the state fairgrounds back in 1948. There were no fancy horse trailers in those days, nor roomy pickup trucks with two rows of seats. He and a young cousin traveled to and from Columbus in a stock truck with the horses.

“In those days, the trip took three hours one-way,” he says. “The ride wasn’t bad, but you really had to hang on for fear of falling off your horse.”

The Barhorsts never feared working with the horses that are affectionately called “gentle giants” due to their size and disposition — a full-grown Belgian stands 17 to 18 hands (more than 6 feet) high and weighs roughly a ton.

Preparing the draft horses for competitions and parades is no easy task. The routine begins the day before a scheduled event with washing and grooming. The animals seem to enjoy the water, as long as it isn’t sprayed in their faces or ears.

Braiding the freshly trimmed manes and tails requires a team approach. George stands on a bench to do the manes, using a practice he learned from a crew member of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Ted focuses on the tails.

“So many people think we just load up the horses and go,” George says with a smile. “They have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.”

Four horses form the hitch for the gleaming wagon, with each sporting up to 150 pounds of harness.

The spacious horse trailer features four individual stalls for comfort and safety. Loading and unloading the huge animals is not a problem for the Barhorsts and their legion of helpers (mostly nieces, nephews, and grandchildren).

“The horses seem to know when we bring them out that this is their time to shine,” Ted says. “You can hear them start to nicker as we get close to home.”

The Barhorsts hit 10 to 15 horse shows throughout the summer, though they have cut back on the parade schedule, which once included 10 dates.

The family has amassed many awards over the years. Hundreds of trophies line the walls of Ted’s basement, while more than 3,800 colorful ribbons decorate the wagon room in one barn. The amazing display comes as a result of winning accolades at horse shows and exhibitions as close as the Shelby County Fair and as far away as Toronto, Canada.

Horses bearing the family’s Bar B moniker have been sold to new owners in 35 states, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, and Japan.

“Raising and showing Belgians involves a lot of hours and a lot of hard work,” Ted says. “But we’ve made a lot of good friends along the way.”