Canadian plowmen — and ladies — turn the black earth

Tough furrows Rock-hard ground didn’t stop enthusiasts from competing earlier this month

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A full week of plowing competitions wrapped up here Oct. 6, with entries from as far away as Ontario and New Brunswick doing their best to turn perfect furrows.

Weather conditions ranged from broiling hot sun, to light snow, strong winds, and rain. However there was one constant through the Manitoba Provincial Plowing Association matches followed by the Canadian Championships later on — the soil was bone dry and hard as rock.

The baked black, heavy earth and a few stones made it tough going in places, said horse-plowing class competitor Art Gibson.

On the first day of competition, the plow point on his riding plow got bent out of shape and he had to stop and get it straightened out before heading back into the furrows.

“Hard, hard. Lumps like this,” he said, holding his hands about a foot apart.

It was tough plowing, even for the tractor classes. Tom Ryall, a top competitor from Rivers, Man. who hails originally from Ireland, said the turned furrows were filled with clods as hard as cobblestones.

On the horse side, a record 15 teams, up from six last year, came out to compete.

“Word is getting around, and more people are coming out to try something different,” said Lori Brooking, treasurer of the Manitoba plowing association.

Along with the swelling number of entries were a handful of notable firsts since the first provincial plowing match in 2006.

Heather Manns hitched up her team of black Percheron mares, Coal and Krusty, to a vintage John Deere footlift sulky plow someone had unearthed in the Riding Mountain area after “that character Art Gibson told me I should try it.”

Spectators were eager to chat with her — the first-ever female competitor in the Manitoba competitions.

“So much for sneaking out and having a good time,” she said, wryly.

Another first was a Haflinger team driven by Dan Fontaine of La Broquerie, Man. Although about half the size of a typical plowing team, the stocky, wide-chested ponies kept pace with their much larger competitors.

Fontaine’s horses were in top shape for plowing after pulling a covered wagon with 3,000 pounds of gear on a 250-mile trail ride this past summer.

“They hardly broke a sweat,” said Fontaine, with a smile, after over an hour in the furrow.

Modern technology

Bruce Gilmore, from Kelwood, Man. brought a brand new, footlift Pioneer sulky plow to the competition. The plow, with a lightweight, welded, square tubing frame, Oliver bottom, a safety shear pin and sealed bearings all around, cost $2,240 plus shipping from the factory in Dalton, Ohio.

“I was plowing down in Austin and this guy told me that they still make brand new plows. So I looked into it,” said Gilmore.

The “Amish high-tech” plow turned such an excellent furrow that he was asked to refrain from using it in competition on the grounds that it gave him an unfair advantage over his competitors, all of whom were using decades-old steel yanked out of retirement from fencerows and the bush.

“They told me that I should go compete with the tractor plows,” said the two-time Manitoba champion with a smile.

Barb Boundy, secretary of the provincial association, said that for next year, newly manufactured horse-drawn plows will be accommodated.

Lyle Mansfield, a familiar face to the local equine community after 46 years behind the counter of the western shop that his father started, took to the field for the first time in the novice class with his Percheron-quarter-horse-cross team, Mandy and Katy, and a John Deere 262.

“I’m just happy to be here,” said Mansfield, with a laugh.


Winners in the Canadian two-furrow conventional tractor plowing championship were Ontarians Barry Timbers in first place, followed by Ken Ferguson, and Nick Boundy of Boissevain, third.

In the two-furrow reversible class, the Canadian champion was Brian Fried of Ontario. Junior champion was Carrie Davenport, of Ontario, the first-ever female to win the class.

Canadian horse champion was Nelson Sage, and second was Brad Linton, in the walking-plow class. First place in the Canadian sulky class was John Hildebrand, with Art Gibson second.

Provincial champion in the senior tractor class was Tom Davenport, followed by Tom Ryall, and Nick Boundy, third.

Provincial walking-plow champ was Brad Linton, followed by Nelson Sage, both from Ontario. Sulky champion was Art Gibson and Bruce Gilmore in second place.

Heather Manns took first place in novice sulky, with Dan Fontaine and Lyle Mansfield in second and third place, respectively.

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