(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
Connie Purchase, of Milford, and Kevin Johnson, of LeSueur, Minn., arrived at the horse stables on the Clay County Fairgrounds Thursday morning to begin welcoming guests from around the country to Spencer - the site of the annual meeting of the American Cream Draft Horse Association.
From as far away as Virginia and California, enthusiasts and breeders of the lone American draft horse breed will be in town until Saturday, taking part in the events at the fairgrounds.
"Members can learn something from this." Johnson said, indicating that he and Purchase have collaborated to put together an informative three-day program for participants and the public at large.
"Kevin and I talked for years about brining somebody in to break the horses down, make sure we're breeding them right," Purchase said. "There are some very well-known draft people coming in."
"The public is welcome," Johnson insisted. "There will be somebody around all the time. They can come look at the Creams, and if they want to, can come to the clinic and learn more about the breed. I talk to people all the time that haven't heard of them."
Between 20 and 25 Creams will be housed in the horse barn, a large number of the breed gathered in one location.
Originating in Iowa, Creams are in danger of disappearing. If not for the ongoing effort of breeding enthusiasts nationwide, the national draft horse might have died out some time ago.
After the turn of the century, and the widespread use of tractors on farms the breed, like many other farm team horses, began to die out. Down to 35 in all, breeders began making an effort to reestablish the population. In 1944, a group of breeders met in Iowa Falls and laid plans to form the ACDHA. Since that time, the numbers have continued to rise to upwards of 400 today.
"They are a long, long, long way from having safe numbers," Purchase, who owns eight Creams of her own and continues to breed them, said.
Johnson, who first learned of the breed from a magazine article in the late 1970s, has been involved with the Creams since buying his first one in 2004.
"I accidentally came across a Cream mare and a foal. I didn't even know there were any Creams around," he admitted. "I like the fact the breed originated in the United States. They're the only American-made draft breed. All the rest are European. There weren't that many of them and they were something different."
He continued, "It was a unique opportunity to build a breed if it does survive. We're not out of the woods yet."
Purchase said the horse reminds her of the kind in class who's "everybody's friend."
"This breed has a gentle disposition," she said.
"I've always been a horse person. I was given a draft horse and I loved it so much. I wanted a team," Purchase recalled.
Looking at the various breeds, she found something in the Creams.
"After learning of their status, I immediately felt, 'Oh my gosh. They need me.'"
She went to Ackley to see some Creams and learn more. A couple of years later, a team was made available in Waverly.
"I bought a team and they were my first two," Purchase said. "After having them I couldn't stop. I bought some fillies and started breeding."
All of Purchase's Creams carry the names associated with ice cream. Baskin Robin, Ben and Jerry are among the horses in her stable.
She's taken her prized horses to the Clay County Fair and displayed them. "Some of the old time draft guys came through and saw them. 'Oh, American Creams' they said. People in northwest Iowa remember American Creams.
Purchase credited their familiarity to Arnold Hockett, of Estherville, who owned Creams for a long period of time.
Originally, Johnson and Purchase had decided to find a county fair property to host the event along the Interstate 35 corridor. After exploring the facilities, it became obvious they would have to look elsewhere to find what they were looking for in terms of accommodations for both humans and horses. The final place they checked proved the perfect fit.
"The Clay County Fair gave us the best bang for the buck. They've taken great care of us. They have stables big enough for the Creams, an indoor arena, places for meals, restrooms," Purchase said.
The event will continue at the fairgrounds through midday Sunday.