The inaugural Chesapeake International Draft Horse Show was held Feb. 8-10 at Wellington’s Crab Orchard Equestrian Estate, donated for the weekend by Frank and Monica McCourt. Founded by Victoria McCullough, the event was a marriage of her passion for draft horse breeds and her love of Wellington. A change from the sport horses that usually frequent Wellington, the world-class Clydesdales, Percherons and Belgians flocked to the show to exhibit their power, agility and beauty.
The show was a weekend of fun and excitement with families traveling to Wellington from all over the United States and Canada. A true family affair, most participants showcase generations of family and teamwork, whether they groom the horses, drive in competition or are responsible for standing at their heads while they are evaluated by the judge. The joys of being in the South Florida sun were echoed all weekend by exhibitors and was a welcomed change from the sport’s usual northern venues. The three-day weekend saw tough competition and stand-out performances as teams vied for valuable points to qualify for the finals in the fall.
Draft horse competition may be new to Wellington, but it has a loyal following across North America. The weekend was held as part of the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series, comprised of more than 60 qualifying competitions. Started in 1987 as a way to bring awareness to the draft breeds, the series is now a well-recognized event, with locals coming back each year to cheer on their favorite teams when they come to town. Although it had humble beginnings, the series has grown to offer generous prize money and travel funds for those accepted to the final. Now considered the “triple crown” of draft horse competition, the sport is well followed within the equestrian community and is a welcomed addition to Wellington, which boasts the best in equestrian competition during the winter show season.
As a highly respected philanthropist and horsewoman, McCullough also focused the weekend on giving back to two charities that are close to her heart — the Young Singers of the Palm Beaches and the Equus Foundation.
The Young Singers of the Palm Beaches is an award-winning community children’s choir based at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The group put on an exciting show during Saturday’s intermission and gave exhibitors a taste of the set list for their upcoming performance at the Kravis Center in May featuring familiar Broadway tunes.
“Being able to work with Victoria, what comes through to me is her love of animals and her love of children,” said Shawn Berry, Young Singers co-founder and artistic director. “It’s obviously evident in what she does with her foundation, but also through her actions.”
He was honored to be involved with the Chesapeake International Draft Horse Show. “We’re finding more and more these days that boys and girls need more ways to connect,” Berry said. “Victoria sees the pride on their faces and watches the boys and girls grow from year to year when she attends our concerts. So, for Young Singers, I feel very, very fortunate that we have made a connection with her.”
The Equus Foundation is the only national charity fully dedicated to ensuring the welfare of America’s horses and fostering the bond between humans and equines. By focusing its efforts on empowering equine charities, inspiring horse lovers and educating the public, the foundation’s mission is to protect America’s equines and strengthen the connection between horses and people.
“The Equus Foundation is honored and thrilled to have been chosen as a beneficiary of the inaugural Chesapeake International Draft Horse Show in Wellington by renowned equine advocate Victoria McCullough,” Equus Foundation Vice President of Engagement Valerie Angeli said. “Victoria is not only a lifelong, expert horsewoman, and now owner of world champion competition Clydesdales, but there is no one more committed to the welfare and rescue of America’s horses.”
Equus Foundation representatives were in the spotlight during Sunday’s intermission, including Angeli along with EquuStars Jessica Springsteen and Clementine Goutal. The three brought rescued mini pony Teddy, now owned by Georgina Bloomberg, as a shining example of how a horse or pony in need can find a second chance.
The Chesapeake International Draft Horse Show invited exhibitors to learn about a sport that was new to many of them. With classes ranging from the Classic Eight-Horse Hitch to the Unicorn Hitch, the teamwork and versatility of gentle giants were on display as they pulled both four-wheel wagons and two-wheel carts in teams of two, four, six and eight. Talented female drivers were showcased with two classes dedicated to women drivers and their hitches. The Express Ranches team of Percherons had a successful weekend, winning the Ladies Cart class as well as the Classic Six-Horse Hitch and Eight-Horse Hitch classes. Zubrod Percherons were another strong force, earning the blue in the Percheron Six-Horse Hitch, the Four-Horse Hitch and the Unicorn Hitch classes.
The dedication of each team was on display through the beautifully adorned manes and tails of their horses, hitched with polished tack to each team’s unique wagon. Braided into their manes and tails were special draft horse accessories that featured mane rolls matched to the team colors, along with shiny flights that made each horse look uniform to the next. The feeling of family and community was apparent, bringing the crowd together to celebrate the passion and love for these gentle giants.
“I am overjoyed at the response from the weekend and that everyone felt it was wholesome, relaxing and family orientated,” McCullough said. “It was so exciting for everyone to get to experience something different in Wellington, and it makes me happy that everyone involved enjoyed it.”
McCullough was happy to help support the Equus Foundation and the Young Singers of the Palm Beaches. “I am so proud to have had them involved with the weekend,” she said. “I am also so thankful for the generous support of our sponsors. It was a beautiful collaboration from the community, and everyone wanted to help, which is greatly appreciated.”
The Chesapeake International Draft Horse Show would not have been possible without the generous support of Express Ranches, Hunting Creek Farm, Anderson Farms, Burger Barn, and Frank and Monica McCourt, who donated their stunning equestrian estate, which is currently offered for sale. McCullough looks forward to welcoming the draft teams back next year to Wellington and making the event a prominent stop on the calendar.
Visit www.naclassicseries.com to learn more about the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series.