By Jef Rietsma
The Newland horse wagon is becoming as iconic a fixture at community festivals as are fire trucks, ambulances and high school marching bands.
Manned by 35-year-old Adam Newland, the two-horse team leading the cherry-red wagon brings smiles to the faces of children and adults alike. Newland said opportunities to foster interaction between his hulking Belgians and the public are occasions he always welcomes, especially at the Vicksburg Historical Society’s Harvest Festival.
“It never gets old,” he said. “I’ve been involved with horses from a young age, and I always look forward to taking a team out and giving the public a chance to see them and take a ride.”
Newland and his wife, Renee, live in St. Joseph County’s Park Township, not far from the Kalamazoo County line and just on the fringe of Schoolcraft. They live two houses from his father, David, on farmland off Marcellus Road.
The elder Newland said he always had a stable of riding horses when Adam was growing up. The youngster, however, developed an affinity for the larger, stocky draft horses.
“We ended up with a team of six Belgians and that’s been Adam’s passion from a young age,” David Newland said. “He got involved in 4-H at a young age and that just more or less (complemented) his passion for the farm and the animals.”
In fact, it led to a career for the younger Newland. He is the lead technician in the equine group at Pfizer’s Zoetis plant in Richland.
Newland and his father together own 200 acres of land, on which they grow beans and corn. Adam has a pasture of cattle, too, but he always seems to gravitate toward his Belgians. He’s had as many as seventeen at one time, but has just five at the moment. In addition, he has five miniature horses, all of whom receive plenty of attention from his sons, Seth, 8, and Carter, 5.
“Owning horses is a lot of work … anybody who keeps horses will tell you that, about Belgians specifically,” the Three Rivers High School graduate said. “We do grow our own hay for the cattle and horses, though, and that helps.”
Newland said he recently restored a wagon that has become the family’s showpiece at public events.
They use it when they participate in draft horse competitions at the fairgrounds in Centreville and also have it hitched to a team when giving rides at events such as Vicksburg’s Harvest Festival.
He prefers to use the tandem of 6-foot, 3-inch Jordan and Prince. Jordan weighs about 2,400 lbs., while Prince checks in at 2,200lbs. Both, he said, are considered large for the breed.
“I have a tractor and that’s what I use for the primary plowing,” Newland said. “I’ll use a team to do some plowing, but for me, the draft horses are more for playing around, for doing fun things like wagon rides at harvest fest or just for my kids here at home.”
In mid-July, one of his Belgians was on loan for studding purposes.
Newland, who has attended horse dental school as well as farrier training, was 13 when his dad bought a pair of Missouri fox trotters. They were meant for his sister, “…but she was afraid of them, so I ended up spending more time with them than anybody,” Newland said.
He parlayed his love for horses into a full seven years in the St. Joseph County 4-H program, later serving as a leader.
Newland said he always has an eye out for adding a head or two, and enjoys attending auctions and shows where he might spy a prospective addition. Newland said he is fortunate to have an eye for quality draft horses, a fact that has led to his involvement as a judge at draft shows. He served as a judge at a show in Lansing in late July.
“I’ve seen draft horses sell for $10,000 – $15,000,” he said. “The most I ever paid was about $5,000 and that nearly cost me my marriage, so I need to be sure I’m getting a solid draft horse, because I won’t have a lot to spend.”