Drivers speeding along the A63 to the M62 might be surprised to notice a more traditional form of “horsepower” alongside them tomorrow as the annual Northern Heavy Horse Society Ploughing Match gets under way.
The event, which has now been running for more than 30 years in North Cave, just off junction 38, is going from strength to strength with rising competitor and visitor numbers year on year.
This year, 12 pairs of horses are booked in to attend with nine vintage tractors also competing.
NHHS chairman Mark Richardson said: “It is really popular, I think because people can see how land used to be worked and really see what hard work it was.
“It’s also a fundraiser too, last year we raised £1,500 just from this event, which all went to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. It’s lovely that this old-fashioned craft can help to raise such a great deal of money for a very modern invention like an Air Ambulance.
“Competitors like to come to North Cave because it is such good ploughing land, and we always get a fantastic turnout.
“Ploughing matches are all about demonstrating skill and while it’s difficult in a tractor it’s much harder with horses.”
As well as the 12 pairs of plough horses there will be five decorated horses, nine tractors pulling a trailer plough and more than 40 static engines. Spectators will be able to see how ploughing developed from horses through to trailer ploughs.
Mr Richardson added: “Over the years we’ve built it up into quite a big event and people like to come along and watch a little piece of history.
“Not many people plough with horses anymore so we want to keep this tradition alive and show people how everyday life was for many farmers before tractors came along.”
Competitors come from all over the country to the event. This year from as far away as North Wales and Leicestershire and there will be representatives from more than six counties, including current British National Champion, Jim Elliott.
Host David Towse said: “It is a nice day out and people like to come and see the horses working, but we also like to keep it as a competition so the people working the horses have something to aim for, keeping traditional skills going.
“The prize money is an extra incentive to turn up and the competitive element means horsemen really pull out all the stops to put on their very best performance.
“Nowadays, these events are the only place you can see horses working and it’s great to see so many people turn out to support them. Over the past few years we’ve seen visitor numbers up and this year is going to be as popular as ever.
“These traditional crafts are dying out so it is nice to keep them going. There are more giant pandas then there are ploughmen, so it’s something we want to support. Last year we even had one competitor plough with three horses at once, instead of the traditional pair.”
There are three horse classes at the event. Two ploughing classes where each pair of horses are given a piece of land, a plot, either traditional ‘high cut’ or general purpose. Each pair has their own plot to plough. The judge watches them throughout their ploughing and examines the finished plot at the end.
Nowadays many of the ploughmen will have an additional helper walking near the horse’s head. This was not always the case in the past but, as Mr Towse points out, ploughing with horses is quite rare and many competitors don’t get the chance to practice, so the helper is just there to ensure the horses keep on track.
The horses plough as a pair until the last furrow, when one horse is unhitched so the remaining horse can plough the last furrow alone. This is to ensure a neat finish.
There are prizes for the winners as well as prizes for the best pair of horses, and the best ploughman. This year among the teams of two there are a range of breeds, mainly Shire horses but also Clydesdales and Ardennes and even a pair of mules.
Following the ploughing match there is a class for best decorated horses, where horses are shown in full harness with floral decorations, as they would be for special occasions.
The ploughing competition runs from 10.30am to around 3pm, with the decorated horse class following afterwards.
You have to wonder what the horses make of it all, so close to the motorway and the modern day ‘horsepower’ that made them redundant.