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Bradgate man teams up for winning hitch

By Staff | Sep 5, 2014

Spectators watch as 17 six-horse hitches circle the arena and drive into place for the grand finale of the 33rd annual Britt Draft Horse Show at the Hancock County Fairgrounds in Britt on Aug. 31. The event is billed as one of the largest draft horse shows in the nation and draws competitors from all over Iowa, as well as Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota and even Utah.

BRITT – Majestic draft horses, harnessed and hitched, spark a response when they thunder past pulling a wagon and setting all the shining links of the rig to jiggling.

For Albert Cleve, of Farmington, Mo., the response is personal. Cleve and Jim Day, of Bradgate, form a partnership that breeds, raises and shows Percheron draft horses.

Known as Blue Ribbon Days, the two took home several top rankings at the 33rd annual Britt Draft Horse Show held over Labor Day weekend at the Hancock County Fairgrounds in Britt.

The partners also own the world’s reigning Percheron champion mare, Unique.

“She is special to me,” Cleve said with tears in his eyes. “She was born the day we buried mom.”

Jim Day, left, walks toward the Percheron mare Unique, while Kelley Woodbury works at braiding the draft horse’s mane for the 33rd annual Britt Draft Horse Show at the Hancock County Fairgrounds in Britt. Day, from Bradgate, is a partner with Albert Cleve, of Farmington, Mo., in Blue Ribbon Days, an operation that breeds, raises and shows champion Percherons.

Unique is now 7 and winning awards in halter, as well as a member of the six- and four-horse hitch teams shown by Blue Ribbon Days. It’s something Cleve said his mother would approve of, even though she didn’t like horses when his dad used to use them in farming. She came around to be a fan once Cleve started to show the big, Arabian-infused Percherons.

“When I was 4 years old, my dad sold his last team,” Cleve said. “I remember those dapple grays leaving, and I always wanted some since.”

Combining resources with Day has enabled Cleve to build a winning operation, he said. They also hired Dean and Kelley Woodbury, of Winchester, Indiana, to train and exhibit the animals.

“It’s a young man’s game,” Cleve said.

Day agreed. Raising and caring for around 40 horses on his property in Humboldt County takes up much of his time, which is why the day-to-day investment of energy and effort toward teaching a team of horses to work together and move in synch as they pull a wagon is left to the Woodburys.

“It takes a lot of hours of practice,” Day said.

But that practice pays off. The partnership won first place in the four- and six-horse hitch classes in Britt on Aug. 30, as well as taking the grand champion gelding ribbon and the best matched pair category. On Aug. 31, they won first in the unicorn hitch, which has three horses pulling a wagon, and again the six-horse hitch. Blue Ribbon Days was ultimately named the show’s Supreme Six-Horse Hitch Champions. The operation plans to compete next in the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series Finals in Oklahoma City.

The Britt Draft Horse Show is billed as one of the largest draft horse shows in the nation. In this year’s event, 18 six-horse hitches registered to compete, although on the last day of the three-day event, one of the horses in a hitch threw a shoe and the team had to be pulled from the show. Competitors participated from all over Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, South Dakota and even Utah.

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