TAYLOR-It was almost as if the audience was in horse trainer Joe Fritz's mind as he led them through the training of a horse in Taylor on Saturday, July 29. Fritz narrated his each and every move as he developed a relationship with the horse, led him around the ring, and eventually made the horse comfortable enough to saddle him.
"It's just the little things," he said, like the "tension of the rope" that allowed him to gain the horse's trust. Throughout the hour-long demonstration the audience was able to get a window into the tight and complex relationships that humans and horses have fostered on North Dakota's plains.
Fritz's demonstration was part of Taylor's Horsefest, an event that has been held annually for the last 24 years to "honor the animal that played such a major part in Taylor, North Dakota's heritage," according to the website.
Along with Fritz's training, the Horsefest hosted a parade, several concerts and dozens of other horse-related activities this past weekend.
One of the main organizers of the event, local farmer John Enderle, said the initial idea for the event was to celebrate "the contribution of the draft-horse." As opposed to flashy, show-horse rodeos, Taylor's Horsefest wanted "to concentrate on the work that draft horses did."
"Pulling the wagons, the plows. Mowing the hay and putting it up. We tried to demonstrate all of that, using horses like they did in the old days," Enderle said.
This year's Horsefest kicked off with a parade of draft-horses. The horses, along with their riders, wagons, and agricultural equipment, were paraded down the main county road that runs through Taylor, which was shut down for the event.
According to Enderle, over 40 horses participated in the parade from across the state. Some horses led wagons of Taylor alumni celebrating their high school reunions while others pulled grain machines and other equipment down the street.
Along with the horses, several young parade participants had decorated and reconfigured bicycles to look like horses and paraded them down the street.
Visiting the area all the way from Washington state, Lauren Kelly and her daughter, Petra, attended the parade on Saturday. Petra said "the pony was (her) favorite horse, it was really pretty."
Following the parade, the Horsefest was moved to a nearby property known to locals as "The Hill," with a large, red barn in the center and wheat fields and horse training facilities around it. The barn showcased a student art contest held for the event and had a steady stream of local bands playing music.
Outside, dozens of vendors had set up shop. There was everything from fleischkuechle stands to bouncy castles to arts and crafts stores.
Dickinson native Eric Bach had a stand set up with various pieces of art he had made from horseshoes. He said that his wife and sister spurred his artistic pursuits.
"They saw some pictures of things they wanted done, and thought I could do it, and it snowballed from there," Bach said. Late in the afternoon, the North Dakota Mounted Shooters gave a show on a track at the south end of the property. The mounted shooters skillfully weaved in and out of an obstacle course on their horses, and fired pistols loaded with blanks at balloon targets.
The North Dakotan musical duo Tigirlily played a concert in the evening, followed by a street dance on Taylor's main drag at night.
For many of the participants in Horsefest, the weekend was more meaningful than just a fun get-together. A farmer from Teppen, North Dakota said that Horsefest has helped, "keep (our) history alive."