LYMAN — Normally the snow lies deep in the woods off Duke Lane this time of year, allowing the Abenaki Draft Horse Club to feature sleigh rides during its annual winter festival.

But on Sunday, with the landscape more brown than white, the horses pulled festival-goers in open wagons instead. Luckily, draft horses are as good at pulling in the mud as they are in the snow.

“Normally this would be out in the sleds in the woods,” said Tom Bragg, a club member from Kennebunk.

The festival is one of several fundraising events put on by the horse club, including a maple breakfast in March and fall festival in October.

The club, which marked its 25th anniversary last year, operates in a complex of buildings on 10 acres of forest and fields in Lyman, in central York County. The club has about 100 members, all of them fans of towering equines.

“We promote the care of draft horses,” said Leo Ruel of Lyman, past president and treasurer of the club.

Club members describe draft horses as gentle giants that make smaller horses seem wild in comparison.

Nelson Mathews of North Berwick owns black Percherons, Shar, age 14, and Duke, 12. He said it didn’t take much to make him fall in love with draft horses.

“A friend let me drive his horses one day and that was it,” said Mathews.

On Sunday the club opened the doors to its club house to serve doughnuts and other treats. Members Mark Trabold of Lebanon and Nathan Cole of Sanford demonstrated farrier techniques. Both agricultural students at the University of New Hampshire, the two said they started hanging around at the club to learn about the animals and a time when farming was done without gas-powered machines.

“Not too many people know as much about draft horses as the people here,” said Cole.

The highlight of the festival were the five teams of horses carting festival-goers through the woods in open wagons. Hale bales provided the seating.

“It was beautiful, gorgeous and not too bumpy,” said Stefanie Heiter of Townsend, Mass., visiting in the area with her family.

Ann Marie and Jack Somers of Lyman said they drop in on club festival events when they can because their Jack Russell terrier, Stella, loves riding behind the draft horses and they enjoy chatting to club members.

“These are the real people of Maine,” said Ann Marie Somers.

More information about the club and other upcoming events is available online at



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