Mardi Anson thought Craig's Grand Olde West Days celebration needed something more.
It needed a family-oriented activity, one with deep Western roots and a strong visual presence.
It needed a draft horse show.
Mardi, who owns two draft horse teams at her home in Craig, said she wanted to give the public something they might have never seen before by organizing the first annual show and feed team race.
"It's neat to see the different kinds of horses," she said gesturing toward enormous pairs of Clydesdales and Belgian horses. "And these are not normal horses. I mean they're huge. And here you see people handling them like pets. They’re wonderful, and they listen. They're better than our kids sometimes."
At the Anson home, the two-horse teams are often harnessed to wagons to pull children’s hayrides or sleigh rides in the winter.
But, mostly, they’re working horses.
The Ansons and many other ranchers in Moffat County still use draft horses to perform chores around the farm, Mardi said.
And it was seven working teams from around the state that showed off their skills Sunday at the Moffat County Fairgrounds.
Several different classes and competitions tested the teams' ability to work as a unit and the driver's ability to maneuver them.
Mardi's husband, Mike Anson, and her brother, Jonathon, competed in the event, their first ever competition.
"Our girls really loved it," Mardi said of her team of Roxie and Ronie. "I think they really had a ball."
The final event of the day was a feed team race featuring heats of two teams. The driver brought the horses to several stops where a second person, called a swamper, would load and unload feedbags, hay bales and salt licks.
The obstacle course continued with a slalom course and a final dash for the gate.
The team of Jim and Stephanie Bushnell, of Fort Lupton, took top honors in the race with horses Bonnie and Clyde, teaching the more novice teams and drivers a few things along the way, Mardi said.
Mardi said she hopes the event will be "bigger and better" next year.
In the meantime, she might take her family's passion beyond a hobby and travel to more competitions around the region.
"Once you love it, you love it forever," she said.
An evolving tradition
The Grand Olde West Days Parade has been an institution in the celebration for 20 years, but parade organizer Kristi Shepherd said the same parade never marches through downtown Craig twice.
"It evolves every year," she said. "We've gone from floats and tractors to old tractors and old cars. It's become a start of summer tradition."
The parade, sponsored by the Craig Lions Club, featured about 20 floats that made their way down Yampa Avenue, turning left onto Victory Way.
Children scrambled for candy and waved as the antique cars revved their engines.
The parade was led by the Moffat County High School marching band, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and the American Legion Post 62, reminding spectators of the reason for the holiday weekend: the celebration and remembrance of fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.
Al Shepherd, a Lions Club member and Vietnam veteran, said the weekend celebration brings the community together and keeps them in Craig on a holiday weekend.
"It's something for people to do in Craig, rather than having to leave," he said.
For 8-year-old Payton Voloshin, a highlight of the day was watching several horseback riders clod through downtown Craig during the parade.
"Yeah, it was cool," she said. "My favorite part was the horses."
The Elks Lodge has had a float in the parade since its inception, and the lodge uses the event as exposure for the organization and as an opportunity for civic engagement.
"It's just getting out into the public, getting the Elks out in front of
everyone and letting them know we're still here," Elks secretary Frank
Sadvar had volunteers handing out hundreds of bags of drug awareness literature, toys and activities for children, which the Elks National Foundation provided at no cost.
"We're big-time into drug awareness," he said. "The kids and the (veterans) — that's what we're all about."
Sadvar said he enjoys the weekend because it’s a chance for the community to come together.
"It's one of the neatest things we do, getting together," he said. "And we just don't do it enough anymore."