BILLINGS — People packed into the fairgrounds at MetraPark in Billings over the weekend to take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of MontanaFair.
But off to the side of the hustle and bustle of the midway carnival rides, people could take things at a slower pace and witness a parade of beautiful draft horses on Saturday and Sunday.
The group of seven horse teams, wagons and riders was brought together by Melody Bilden, a member of the Montana Draft Horse and Mule Association. With a quick three weeks of preparation, she managed to get the group together to strut their stuff at the fair.
“A lot of us are retired and this is our expensive hobby, but we enjoy the horses. We put them to good use doing this, giving rides. Almost every one of the teams here has done farming, we’ve done logging and parades. Everybody here has done parades with their horses. So we just really enjoy doing things like that with the horses," Bilden said.
People came from as far away as Virginia City, Lewistown and Clark, Wyoming to ride during the four parades held over the weekend.
Bilden said draft horses were well used on family farms in the past. The breed is generally bigger and stronger than other horses with a calm temperament to make for easier handling with daily chores.
"The draft horses were used, most people know, for farming in the old days and they wanted something that they could farm with during the week and then ride to church on Sunday. There's smaller drafts, but a draft horse in itself is a horse that can farm and plow and be a family horse at the same time," Bilden said.
But horse work on the farm or ranch certainly isn't a thing of the past. Many ranchers still go on horseback to move their livestock. Bilden said her husband still regularly mows the grass along Highway 87 near their home south of Roundup with a horse-powered mower.
Jim said he prefers the horse for a job like mowing because it's cheaper than a gas-powered mower and you don't have the engine constantly blaring away in your ear.
“Well, it’s a lot cheaper. (Horses) give off gas instead of taking it. So that’s always a plus," Jim said with a laugh.
Along with the food, rides and other fun inside the admission gates, some star-studded musical acts drew big crowds to First Interstate Arena over MontanaFair opening weekend.
Pop singer, Kesha, and her stage show brought about 5,500 people to the arena on Friday night.
On Saturday, country star Cody Johnson and his band brought about 5,300 people to the arena.
To learn more about MontanaFair and its upcoming entertainment, visit its website by clicking here.