Lucky and Lady driven by Lyle Killeen demonstrate how it used to be done at the 2023 Ottawa Carleton Plowmen’s Association (OCPA) Plowing Match in Richmond, Ontario. Killeen says it is his love of horses that drew him into plowing. Tinkess Photo

By Terry Tinkess
AgriNews Staff Writer

OTTAWA – Attending a plowing match can be in some ways like taking a walk along an agricultural timeline and the 2023 Ottawa Carleton Plowmen’s Association (OCPA) Plowing Match was no exception. It was also an anniversary of sorts in that it has been 40 years since the OCPA hosted the 1983 International Plowing Match in Richmond.

This year’s Richmond event took place on Fri., Aug. 25 and Sat., Aug. 26, on the Chris Schouten Farm, across from 3285 Eagleson Road in Richmond, Ontario. There were some fine examples of antique farm equipment on display, but there were just as many whose working days weren’t quite finished yet and they could be seen creating some extremely straight furrows. Anyone who can manage to control all that power with such precision is deserving of respect.

It was a busy weekend with several other playing matches taking place in Eastern Ontario. To be eligible to plow at the International Plowing Match (IPM) and Rural Expo in Bowling Green, (Dufferin County) Ontario, competitors must compete in local events first. (The International Plowing Match took place from Sept. 19 – 23 and celebrated the 105th anniversary of the IPM.)

No matter where you looked there was lots of horsepower, although towards the north end of the property the horsepower came on four legs. I don’t know if it is the seemingly relaxed pace at which the plowing occurs, or maybe it is the majesty of the animals themselves that makes this portion of the match the most enjoyable to watch. I’m sure their productivity can’t compare to their diesel counterparts, but like so many “old ways” of doing things, this one certainly appeared to be a more enjoyable way to get the job done, although you might not have felt the same way after a full day being bounced around. 

The Killeen team of Lucky and Lady were the first out and working on Saturday morning and they seemed to have everything under control. “Oh yeah, they’re good,” said Lyle Killeen, their owner. “They’re Belgian and Canadian. Everyone thinks their first round but they’re Belgian Canadian cross.”

“I just go for fun. I’m not professional. I do mostly demonstrations, I’ve been doing it for maybe 10-12 years. I just like horses and it’s an excuse to get out. If you decide to sell them at least they have had some exposure.”

For a plow, Killeen uses a Massey Harris model 21. “Everyone thinks John Deere, but Massey was green and yellow pre-1930s,” said Killeen. “Up into the 30s or 40s they started going red and yellow which is a Massey Harris.”

Killeen was recognized as the oldest plower in the Match.

Mark Dowdall and his wife Kim had picked out a prime spot to watch as their daughter Alex competed and she did very well, taking top spot in the two-Furrow Mounted Plow — Open Class (open split required, for 16 to 20 years), the Best Plowed Land (20 years and under), and Youngest Female Plower.

Father and daughter also teamed-up to capture the Best Plow Team over/under 20 years using the same tractor/team and plow. Watching them, it is easy to see that they work well together and to see the influence that family has. Alex Dowdall explains how that is probably the main reason she became involved in plowing.

“My coach, my dad, he, his grandfather and all his brothers plow,” said Alex. “His dad, they used to plow with horses, so I guess it’s a long history.

“He (her dad) runs the 4-H Plowing Club, so…”

When asked if she enjoys what she is doing, Alex doesn’t hesitate, “I do,” she said, with a broad smile on her face, “I plowed at the International Plowing Match last year and came in first place!”

Okay, but what’s the best thing for you about plowing?

“I guess it’s the reward factor,” said Alex. “Just knowing that you did something that not a lot of people know about, and you can talk about it and tell people about it.”

There are, it seems as many reasons for plowing as there are people who plow, but that it gives them pleasure is probably the most common reason. Denis Bourbonnais, for example has been plowing since 2011.

“I come from a farming background,” said Bourbonnais, “And my family has a dealership in Sarsfield, so I’ve always been close to agricultural implements and so on. When I retired, I decided to pick up my brother’s challenge and plow. I’ve got the machines, and we’ve got to do something, of course. So, it’s time, but it’s also a fair amount of investment.”

And the best part about it for you? “Oh, I guess being outside and being able to make the old machines perform as they did 70 years ago,” said Bourbonnais. He would go on to win the Antique Tractor Class (open split require) Trail Plows.

In an era of artificial intelligence, where autonomous implements are poised to become a fixture in agriculture, it is refreshing to know that there are still places where the skill required to do the job matters at least as much as just getting it done.