Hitched in Tradition

Brandon Moore pauses a 4-hitch team led by newcomers Maverick and Nick. Photo by Susan Jacobson

Steeped in family tradition, hard work, sweat and the bond of true unity, Brandon Moore from Potlatch, Idaho, has a
passion for draft horses instilled by his grandfather Don Nagle. For 48 years, the Nagle name has had a hitch of handsome Belgian horses—a team with thick muscles and incredible power used for work, competition and show.

Growing up, Brandon loved being on the farm with the draft horses and learned to be a driver. What began as youthful fascination grew to full-fledged infatuation. When his grandpa and grandma, Betty, decided it was time to retire, Brandon wasn’t ready to let go.

“They said they wanted to get out of the business, and I said, ‘That’s not fair,’” Brandon says. “‘You get me all gung-ho, and now you want to quit?’”

For Brandon, quitting wasn’t an option.
In 2017, he started buying the horses— not an easy deal with each horse costing thousands of dollars. He finished buying them in 2020. Ongoing operating costs
are another hurdle. They include around $9,000 a year in hay alone. It is a financial commitment just to feed the eight Belgians and three saddle horses.

Then, there are expenses to care for and keep the animals healthy, plus fuel for the big, green semi that hauls the team to their destinations.

The commitment is a family affair. While Brandon handles the care, training and driving, his wife, Shelly, handles the logistics as they build the Nagle Belgians brand. The couple’s two daughters, Cheyenne, 7, and Arianna, 3, are the fourth generation keeping the passion alive. Cheyenne competes in the cart class, and Arianna rides along or enjoys being pulled on her sled behind the team in the winter. Brandon’s uncle, Mike Nagle, and cousin, Darin Nagle, have their own teams as well. Four hitches of gentle giants have grown from the love for Belgians shared by Don and Betty.

Brandon works full time as an electrician to help fund the costs associated with the teams while juggling the full-time job of caring for, training and competing with the team. It also takes time to develop a bond with the horses, which Brandon says is important.

He works with the horses and also has 2 helpers.

“With 2 or 3 teams entering competitions, having more hands helps get the job done,” Brandon says.

Jonathan Rouleau does the groundwork and anything else that fuels his joy of working with the draft horses. Alexia VandeKamp—who was just 10 years old the first time she got behind a team of the Nagle Belgians—helps provide care, trains the horses and drives a hitch. Many years later, she still loves it.

“If I had to choose a favorite thing, it would be getting all the horses to work together smoothly, doing their part, knowing us, being familiar with what we want and being better as a total team,” she says.

Brandon Moore stops to give the horses a break between morning and afternoon competition. Photo by Susan Jacobson

Each horse has its own, unique personality, and getting eight horses to mesh can be a challenge. The team must work together and respond in unison to the driver’s commands. Brandon recently acquired two young horses from different parts of the country and put them in as leaders at the beginning of March. The horses, named Maverick and Nick, had never worked together but are perfectly matched and quickly figured out what is expected.

Every season brings activities to keep the horses in top physical condition while keeping their minds sharp. Spring brings pulls, called working bees, like the one held each year at the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds in Colfax, Washington.

“Something like this where they have to work, it gets them to sweat and know their job,” Brandon says. “These spring shows get the horses further than just training with a wagon.”

The teams prepare and seed the fields like the teams of old did before machines came along.

Summer and fall are filled with competitions for the Moore family, which travels around Idaho, to Deer Lodge, Montana, and as far away as Mona, Utah. Mona, which the family travels to at the end of the season, is a favorite of the whole family. Cheyenne is a fan of the badges and awards she earned there in the cart class.

The shows are judged events with points given to the team and driver. Judges watch closely to see if horses are doing their job, if they seem happy and if they are working together. They also judge how well the teamster knows their job and how well they handle the horses.

With much of their competition being corporate teams with professional drivers, the Nagle Belgians compete with some of the best competition anywhere, Brandon and Alexia say. Brandon is proud his team is so competitive.

“We’re just good enough to keep all those corporate teams on their toes and honest,” Alexia says. “If they make one little bauble, one error, we are there to pass them up and steal the honors.”

While corporate teams are hard to beat, they only pull wagons and have never worked. Nagle horses excel in the patterned events because they train in a variety of skills throughout the year.

The Anderson Memorial Trophy started in 1995 bears the inscription, “Never be disappointed when your horses have given their best.” The award has the Nagle name on the winner plates 16 times—more than any other name. Don Nagle’s name is on the award five times, Brandon’s four times, Mike’s five times and Darin’s twice.

Shelly said the draft shows offer camaraderie as well as competition.

“When the show season gets started, you get to catch up with friends that often live several states away, friends you only get to see at the shows,” she says.

Then, winter snow brings the action home to Potlatch with sleigh and bobsled rides. People visit the farm to take part in a winter tradition, and the children have fun being pulled across the field on their sleds.

Brandon and his wife, Shelly, drive a full 6-horse hitch and wagon at the Big Sky Draft Horse Expo in Deer Lodge, Montana. Photo courtesy by Brandon Moore.

Brandon’s goals for the future are simple.

“It would be cool to have a team of all mares,” he says. “Mares that could be bred, taking off part of the year to foal and then competing in their own team going into fall.”

The Nagle Belgians can be seen August 25 to August 26 at the Draft Horse Show and Pull during the North Idaho State Fair in Coeur d’Alene. Arrangements can also be made to see them in Potlatch. Visit the Nagle Belgians Facebook page for more information.