The Provincial Exhibition is beginning the process of rebuilding the heavy horse show at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair after just two hitches competed this year.
A meeting held during the fair in late March saw concerns brought forward by 50 exhibitors and draft horse enthusiasts. The goal of the discussion was to come away with suggestions and ideas for a new model for the show that will work for all parties.
“There is no doubt we (the Provincial Ex) are here to work with the heavy horse industry to solve this situation,” Wayne Buhr, co-chair of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, said. “I am 100 per cent confident that together we can work to come out with a better show for everyone.”
Scheduling and work load, lack of communication and organization, management concerns, treatment of exhibitors, and issues with security were some of the points raised by those in attendance, but the recurring theme was money.
According to some of the longtime exhibitors of the show, the payouts haven’t changed a lot in the past 25 years, but the cost of showing at the winter fair has.
“It costs us more to come here every year,” said Mark Bourns of Cartwright, a longtime exhibitor at the RMWF.
Doug McGibbon from Cranbrook, B.C. has never exhibited at Winter Fair, but he has helped organize shows in other parts of the country, and has shown a hitch across Canada and the U.S. He feels that the money aspect is something that definitely needs to be addressed.
“You have to support the locals, they are the backbone of the show,” he said. “They need the money in order to keep coming, many are taking their holidays to do this, the cost of everything has gone up (harness, horses, fuel, etc.) and nothing is going down.”
Brad Delgaty of Delgaty Clydesdales from Minnedosa agrees.
“Most of us are doing it (showing drafts) as a hobby, we don’t do it to get rich, but we need to cover some of our costs,” he said. “We are entertainers too, and the payouts don’t reflect that.”
Longtime draft horse exhibitor and a frequent face at the RMWF, Gord Ruzicka of Viking, Alberta, offered some insight. He has helped to organize many shows, and has seen things from both the perspective of showing his own horses as well as being employed by a hitch.
“I love coming here; it is a great venue, a great atmosphere, a great building,” he said. “It’s just that you’ve got to make your entry and stabling fees cheaper and you’ve got to get money into everyone’s hands. You’ve got to pay the locals to keep them here, and that keeps the numbers up and attracts the bigger outside hitches.”
He cautions that if the Provincial Ex wants to keep the heavy horse show as part of the RMWF, that it needs to take immediate steps to correct it, or it could be in jeopardy as was the case with the Canadian Western Agribition that discontinued its heavy horse show in 2011.
“We want draft horses here,” says Brent Miller, president of the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba, “but we have to make it work for everyone.”
McGibbon is optimistic. “It’s going to take the right people with an open mind on both sides to sit down and come to an agreement. There is definitely a solution to be found.”
A committee is being struck to develop a plan.