Rare Skills of Local Drivers on Display

In 2011, the fair set a Guinness World Record for biggest hayride, with 639 people piling on in a grandstand flash mob. This year you can see another world-class wonder: the eight-horse hitch.

Draft-horse drivers have competed in the six-horse hitch at the fair since 1948. It involves a team of matched draft horses, each weighing about a ton, harnessed to a brightly painted spoke-wheeled wagon helmed by one driver.

But the eight-horse hitch is rarely done anywhere in the world, explains draft horse superintendent George Bowen. It takes an exponential extra layer of skill. Plus, to find teams of eight horses matched for size and color is extraordinary, he says.

Plans call for three teams of eight horses showing at a 6 p.m. show, free to all fairgoers, on Thursday and Friday in the grandstand arena.

Here’s what you’ll see: teams of eight gleaming Belgians, Clydesdales or Percherons, tails and manes braided with flowers, hand-buckled into 150 pounds of chrome and leather harness. At the helm, using only voice commands and about 50 feet of long leather lines, is one driver, often a descendant of families who’ve driven draft horses at the fair for three or four generations. (You can read more about Whatcom County’s connection to the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales in “100 Years at the Northwest Washington Fair,” available at Village Books and the fair office.)

It’s a spectacle of horsepower, driving skill and special wisdom. Expect a shiver of pride as these horses thunder by!

To continue reading our feature on the Northwest Washington Fair, click here.

"It’s a spectacle of horsepower, driving skill and special wisdom."