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Morrisville State College Belgian draft horses spend summer dazzling crowds

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—It’s been an entertaining summer for Cletus, Chief, Jay, Tarzan, Mac and Cap.

The alluring athletes of Morrisville State College’s six-horse Belgian hitch have been traveling throughout the nation performing in competitions and exhibitions, dazzling crowds and earning their share of kudos along the way.

Pretty soon they’ll be heading to the Eastern States Exposition (Big E) in West Springfield, Mass., the largest fair in the Northeast boasting top-name entertainment and spectacular shows, to exhibit in the fair’s daily parade at 5 p.m. Sept. 16-23. The college will also be showing (competing) during the fair Sept. 29-Oct. 2.

“It is an honor when we are asked to exhibit at prestigious shows and fairs such as this one,” Scott Seymour, equine manager at Morrisville State College, said. Seymour, who also teaches equine classes, has been showing for nearly 25 years and drives Morrisville’s six-horse hitch in competitions.

Throughout the summer, Seymour and Morrisville State College equine students have been showing and exhibiting at numerous events and county fairs with a single horse and cart, four-, six-, and eight-horse hitches. Morrisville is the only college in North America to compete with a six-horse hitch.

They’re also looking forward to upcoming trips that include the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, one of the largest fairs in North America; the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y.; and the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass.

Local residents will have a chance to see the gallant team in action Sept. 1-4 as it competes in the coliseum near the dairy barn at The Great New York State Fair. Admission to the horse show is free

Behind the scenes, there’s a lot that goes into preparing the team to hit the road. 

“It takes hours of hard work keeping the horses conditioned and preparing them for competition,” Seymour said. That also includes miles of driving in the field.

Three equine science and management students participating in a summer internship in the college’s draft horse program, Nicole Blanton, of Calicoon Center; Marc Wirasnik, of Pittstown, N.J.; and Jake Sampson, of Earlville, are doing their part to make the horses show ready.

Their rigorous day begins at 7 a.m. assisting Seymour with training, cleaning stalls, feeding, walking, driving and washing the 11 Belgian horses in the college’s draft barn on Hart Road. Throughout the year, equine students also train draft horses for the general public through the college’s Equine Institute.

Trading their summer plans for an internship has been a rewarding compromise that’s given Blanton, Wirasnik and Sampson the opportunity to represent Morrisville State College driving with Seymour and assisting with all facets of showing.

“I’ve never driven before and this internship has given me the opportunity to learn all aspects of the business and to also gain experience in the show ring,” Blanton said.

“We work toward being in that ring. Our ultimate goal is to be showing,” said Wirasnik, who already has a residential construction degree from Morrisville State College.

“I’m definitely gaining important skills and learning something new every day,” Blanton said.

The trio has done everything from mending fences and hitching the wagon to caring for horses. And they’ve also gained a deeper understanding of the docile Belgian giants who range from 17.3 to 18.1 hands, weigh in between 1,900 to 2,300 pounds and consume approximately 30 pounds of hay and 20 pounds of grain per day, plus minerals and salt.

Mac, a show off who likes to be the center of attention, is partnered with Cap at the front of the team where the smallest and quickest horses are placed that can cover twice the distance of a wheel horse on the turn. Since they are bigger horses, Cletus and Chief are the pair at the wheel (wheel horses) or spot closest to the wagon and do most of the pulling, with Jay and Tarzan ahead of them in the swing or middle row.

Seymour selects the Belgians from all over North America based on their color, size, style, spirit and action. “I’m looking for a 2,000-pound athlete that is also conformed correctly,” he said.

After horses are in the hitch for two or three years, they are sold to people in the industry who want horses that are already broke and trained.

“This means we can purchase more horses so incoming students will always have new horses to train,” Seymour said.

When it’s show time, students work diligently behind the scenes braiding horses’ manes and tails, shining hooves, grooming, harnessing, and preparing the hitch, whose power and grace captivate crowds wherever they go.

In the ring, teams are judged on horses’ performance and presentation, which includes grooming, harnessing and hitching the wagon.

The strength of Morrisville’s team is its well-trained draft horses and skilled students, and the precise team work between drivers and horses.

“It is the result of repetitive work, knowing the horses’ personalities and capabilities, and confidence working with them,” Seymour said.

Although most students who show are amateur drivers and many horses are new to the scene, the Morrisville team is still competitive against professionals, Seymour said.

Morrisville State College offers one of the most diverse Equine Science Programs, with specializations in breeding, western, hunt seat, draft/driving, thoroughbred racing, standardbred racing, and business.

Students can try out to be part of the Equestrian Team, which competes in Region II (Western) and Region III (Hunt Seat) of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA).

Degrees offered are a bachelor of technology degree in equine science (the only one in New York state) and two associate degrees in equine racing management and equine and science management.

Facilities include an Equine Breeding and Training Center, which includes a breeding and foaling barn, hunter/jumper barn, stallion barn, complete breeding laboratory, collection area, laptop classroom and three indoor riding arenas; an 80-acre Equine Center complete with paddocks, stables, and the only half-mile harness racing track on a college campus in the nation; and a draft horse barn with a covered round pen and runouts. Construction is also under way on an equine rehabilitation facility in the Town of Nelson on Route 20, scheduled to open this fall.

The college is also known for operating one of the largest yearling sales in North America, taking in more than $2 million.

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Visit www.morrisville.edu to experience, Morrisville in motion.

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