By Helen Eden
Dick Renfro, semi-retired Stevensville contractor whose hobby is driving Norwegian Fjord draft horses at area horse-driving competitions, landed the highly-coveted “Master Teamster” Award at the Big Sky Draft Horse Expo, held at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Deer Lodge last weekend.
The show, in its twenty-third year, attracts a cross-section of the horse driving industry. At one end of the spectrum are classes for “weekend driving warriors” like Renfro. Exhibitors, mostly from western Montana, drive a variety of breeds of equines, including Norwegian Fjords, Hafflingers, European warmbloods, quarter horses, and mules in a variety of events. The other end of the scale features classes for Budweiser-like draft 6-horse hitches – massive Belgians, Percherons, Clydesdales, and Shires – campaigned by their owners on a competitive circuit across the United States.
The “Master Teamster Award,” an award “designed to demonstrate the partnership between a team and driver,” is based on exhibitor scores in four events at the show: an obstacle course, log skidding, a cultivating competition (with contestants cultivating rows of water bottles using horse-drawn potato cultivators), and the Canadian maze (a crowd-pleasing, fast-paced drive through a pattern of cones). Teamsters/teams were evaluated on a variety of factors, including the team’s “way of going” (pulling evenly and responding to the driver’s verbal and commands); the teamster’s driving skills; presentation (which includes cleanliness of horses/harness); and, of course, times recorded and places earned while competing in the four events.
In winning the award with Fjords Ellie and Eden, Dick narrowly outdistanced Missoula teamster Jerry Johns (driving a team of Norwegian Fjord mules owned by Kathy DeGreve of Hamilton); other teamsters included last year’s winner Bob Tomaskie of Helena, 2015 Master Teamster Claudia Hrebicek of Victor, and eight other teamsters.
Dick, who has been driving Norwegian Fjords for 16 years, also won the four-abreast driving at the Big Sky Expo (adding Fjords Guinevere and Ginger to his hitch). He was assisted the entire weekend by “pit crew” members: wife Sharon and neighbor Ray Williams.
Dick and his wife Sharon (a master quilter) live in Dry Gulch northeast of Stevensville. They are members of the Bitterroot Draft Horse and Mule Club and the Montana Draft Horse and Mule Association. Dick also competes at driving events at the Ravalli County Fair and regional Norwegian Fjord competition (this year at Sandpoint, Idaho) and hauls students at the Bitterroot Farm Fair each spring.