Percherons are now a retirement hobby for Hilary Brunner of Belgrade

Hilary Brunner guides Fanny, Florie and Barney, three of his Percheron horses, while cutting corn during a NMDHA fall field day at his farm north of Belgrade.


By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Hilary Brunner used horses on the farm where he grew up north of Belgrade but it wasn’t until decades later that he brought horses back to the farm.

“My dad farmed with horses, and I used them a lot,” he said. “He sold the last team when I was 20.”

Brunner has lived on that same farm his entire life, with the exception of about 18 months during his military service.

He enlisted in the Army in the fall of 1958, training in artillery at Fort Hood, Texas, before being sent to a small town near Munich, Germany. When his dad had a heart attack in March 1960, he returned to the farm and has never left.

Soon after he came home to Minnesota, he and Cecelia Lieser married Aug. 20, 1960, and raised 10 children together.

It wasn’t until Brunner reached retirement age that his friend, Gene Loxtercamp, talked him into getting back into horses.

“It’s a hobby, more or less,” Brunner said. “That first team is gone now. The most horses I had at one time was 10, but now there are six.”

Brunner stands between Barney, left, and Ben.
Although he grew up using horses a lot, Brunner spent most of his adult years without them until he was talked into getting them by a friend.

Brunner has found horses at neighboring farms, auctions and through friends’ recommendations. Nine-year-olds Ben and Barney were purchased near Avon when they were four-year-olds. Fanny and Florie are a mother and daughter he got from an Amish farmer near Clarissa.

Brunner still raises oats, corn, alfalfa and soybeans on about 100 of his 153 acres. He usually uses a team of horses to seed the oats in the spring, and does some haying with them.

“I don’t mind doing some field work with them,” he said.

Brunner takes his horses to Amish farmers close to Long Prairie to have their hooves trimmed. The farmers have also restored some machinery for Brunner.

Taking care of and using horses isn’t always a “walk in the park” however.

“One horse ran away with me, and it took six months for my knee to heal,” Brunner said. The injury was a torn ligament.

The horses are hitched to a bobsled in winter to give his grandchildren rides. “At Christmas, we sometimes hook them to a wagon and go down the road a ways,” he said. Brunner takes a team to the Stearns County Fair.

He used to have a little team that his wife, Cecelia, used to drive the kids around, prior to her death in 1997.

Brunner married Marion Spanier in 2001, and they had 11 years together before her death early this year.

Only one of his 10 children is much interested in horses. His daughter, Barb Schloemmer, is the president of the Northern Minnesota Draft Horses Association (NMDHA).

A field day sponsored by NMDHA was held at Brunner’s farm in 2008, and he will be hosting one in 2013.

At the field day, draft horses demonstrate many types of plows and other equipment such as grain drill, corn binder, potato digger, clod pulverizer, oat thresher and a three-bottom plow using six horses.

At this year’s show there were 111 horses, five mules and four oxen. Close to 1,000 people attended.

In addition to horses, Brunner raises peacocks “just for the fun of it,” he said.

“The horses are something to do — entertainment to a certain extent,” said Brunner. “It’s fun plowing when they follow the furrow. Florie is really good at that.”