Rescued horses basking in Holiday Lights

Farm Forum

Indiana, and Wisconsin especially, seem to revel in the attention.

The two Belgian mares stand unflustered as kids scramble around them, pet them and pose for photos.

“These girls offer a lot,” said Josh Voges, who drives the team that pulls a trolley at the Kiwanis Holiday Lights at Sibley Park in Mankato, Minn.

“They understand how big they are, they don’t move. Wisconsin, she eats up having photos taken.”

The two big horses would be even more content to know that their gig at the holiday festival saved them from slaughter.

Voges, of Judson, has owned Clydesdale draft horses for years and talked to the Kiwanis about pulling a trolley this year. Last year someone gave horse-drawn buggy rides, but only four people at a time could ride. When Voges got the OK, he built a trolley that carries 20 people.

“Then in August one of my Clydesdales broke his leg, so it left me without a team.” Buying another Clydesdale was out of his price range, so Voges called a broker he knew who travels to horse auctions, buying horses for slaughter. The broker bought the Belgian mares in Wisconsin and Indiana — leading to the names Voges gave them — and sold them to Voges.

“They were Amish work horses. The Amish keep their mares to have babies and to work them. These two had been worked pretty hard and by the time they got to 15- or 16-years-old they can’t plow those fields all day.”

The older horses sold at auctions usually go to slaughter houses in Canada, where slaughter is legal. The U.S. had stopped horse slaughtering after lawsuits were filed, but a federal court ruled last month that it can again be done in America. Groups fighting it have run out of court appeals. Horse meat is used for animal feed, but mostly for human consumption in many parts of the world.

“I’m not opposed to slaughter, there’s reasons to do it. There’s people who just can’t afford their horses. Hay went from $2.50 a few years ago to more than $7 a bale now. When you feed a horse a bale a day, it gets expensive,” Voges said.

But for Wisconsin and Indiana, they should have many years ahead of them. Voges said draft horses live 20-25 years. He’s not certain of the ages of his horses but believes they are about 15, based on what the Amish owners told the broker who bought them.

Voges and his team are giving rides at Sibley Park from 5-9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Kyle Mrozek, of the Downtown Mankato Kiwanis, said that a cold snap at the beginning of the lights festival slowed visitor numbers a bit, but it’s picked up since.

“The numbers are falling in line with last year. Initially there weren’t a lot of people walking around because it was so cold, but now it’s good,” Mrozek said.

“Last weekend the cars were non-stop. We stop the line of cars at 10 p.m., but they were lined up, and the last ones didn’t get through until 10:40.”

He said the new skating rink is going over well and said a feature story of the display on WCCO TV recently has brought new interest in the Holiday Lights.

“We’ve had people from the Cities who said they saw it and came down. It gives us some good PR in the metro area.”