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Gentle Giants

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By Brad Bowman

 

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Some people say Oscar Ethington’s fame as a draft horse champion comes from his hard training and expertise, but Ethington claims the lord blessed him and he knows it.

It’s hard not to find Ethington’s name when researching draft horse competitions. He set a world record driving a team of draft horses at a county fair in Lenton, Ind. Draft horse competitions have taken him across the nation to Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, Florida and New York.

Ethington’s horses train daily on his farm in Pleasureville with a regimen that includes pulling a 1,000 pound sled with a driver three miles a day.

 

He has eight horses on his farm in Pleasureville: Cracker, Prince, Duke, Shorty, Tom, Frank, Rowdy (the terminator) and Lil’ Barney. Each horse eats 5 gallons of grain, Ethington’s custom blend of vitamins and half a bale of hay daily. His Belgian horses and one Percheron average at about 19 hands high (6 feet) and weigh approximately 2,000 pounds. Despite his horses’ strength to pull more than an excess of 10,000 pounds, Ethington admires their gentle disposition.

“They could be a tiger if they wanted to be,” Ethington said. “It’s how big and yet how gentle they are.”

Ethington’s father trained draft horses, and Oscar had his first team of horses at 16. Ethington decided at an early age he wanted to train horses the rest of his life.

At 69, he doesn’t see any reason to stop. If his health holds out, Ethington said he will keep going till he dies.

“You couldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it,” Ethington said. “You have to have confidence in your horse and the horse will confidence in you.”

Ethington worked under a very successful team in Indiana. He paid his dues of inexperience with hard work. He cleaned stalls and did whatever his bosses told him to do.

“You don’t become successful by working under someone that isn’t a winner,” Ethington said. “I worked for them for two or three years and I listened closely to what they said.”

He started out small not getting the best horses, but learned different bloodlines, how to spot the anatomy of a good draft horse and continued to progressively get better horses.

“It’s in the area over their kidneys,” Ethington said. “That’s where their power to pull is. You want to look at their back. Do they have a long hip or short hip?”

Ethington has collaborated with Henry Hawkins at Purdue University and Glen Smith at Kentucky Nutrition in Lawrenceburg to optimize the nutrients Ethington uses in the vitamins for his horse teams. He typically starts training his draft horses at age 3 and expects a horse to reach their prime between the years of 8 and 12.

Despite his expertise and success, Ethington doesn’t brag about the more than 1,000 medals and trophies cluttering his home and attic, and doesn’t think he will blow out the competition at the upcoming Henry County Fair. According to Ethington, you can’t blow out anyone in Kentucky.

“People will tell you that Kentucky has the toughest competitors in the country,” Ethington said. “If you make into the top five of a competition in Kentucky you are doing good.”

Ethington buys his horses from Amish friends that he said he would trust with his life. Recently he gave a pair of horses to an Amish farmer that lost his workhorses. For Ethington success isn’t material.

“Prince is probably one of the best horses I’ve turned. Someone tried to offer me $75,000 to sell a horse and some people think I am crazy for not taking it,” Ethington said. “The lord has blessed me with good horses. I don’t know why but he has and money isn’t everything.”

 

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