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Tourism Council visits draft horse farm

The Pearl River County Tourism Council visited Kenny Russell’s Draft Horse Farm on Thursday for a tour and discussion of the farm being a possible tourist destination within the county.

Russell has been operating the 89-acre farm with draft horses since 1978, and uses the horses to perform all the tasks on the farm such as plowing, mowing, harrowing, disking and hay baling. He then uses the crops he grows to help feed his horses, which helps him save money.

Russell, who works full-time in the agricultural department at Pearl River Community College, said draft horses are at the peak of their performance between 12 and 14 years old, but that he has owned horses that worked until they were 24 years old thanks to modern medicine.

Russell demonstrated two types of draft horses to the council on Thursday, Belgians and Percherons.

“A Belgian is as good as you can get when it comes to draft horses. Back in the early 1900s, the Percherons dominated the draft horses in the United States, but after the 1930s, the Belgians took the forefront. These days, Belgians outnumber all other work horses combined,” Russell said.

Russell said the Belgians are so popular because of their good nature, ability and strength.

“I’ve never seen a Clydesdale that can pull as much as a Belgian. They’re the muscle of the draft horses,” Russell said.

Carol Fitzwilliam of the tourism council asked Russell if he had ever considered allowing tourists to come to the farm and view the horses.

“I’ve never thought about tourism. I just bring in the students and let them learn how to use the horses,” Russell said.

Russell said he has had students from almost every state in the nation, as well as from places like Argentina, Puerto Rico, British Columbia and other parts of Canada, and England. The classes usually run for three days, and Russell usually has 10 to 15 students per class. He usually holds three to four classes per year, he said.

Renee Russell, who helps her husband run the farm, said the students are taught driving techniques, safety, harnessing and hooking an animal or a team to farm machinery.

“Kenny really emphasizes the safety, not just for the student but for the horse as well. But we’re really just about teaching people to farm using draft horses,” Renee Russell said.

Renee Russell said she had never thought about tourism either, because she doesn’t think about there being people in the world who are not around horses.

“I’ve been around horses for so long now that I just forget that other people aren’t around them. I don’t think about there being people willing to pay to come see our horses and our farm,” Renee Russell said.

The Russells told the council that they would think about the idea and let the members know.

Fitzwilliam said the horse farm would make a great tourist attraction.

“Eco- and agri-tourism are the big things these days. People pay big money to come out of the city into the country and see how things are planted and grown,” Fitzwilliam said.