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Hoof-da: Draft horse pulling an exercise in power

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Paul Geray spends two to three hours a day training his Belgians.  The draft horses pull a lugging skid, which weighs 1,500 to 2,000 pounds, 2 to 4 miles a day to build their endurance. Then they’re harnessed to a 7,000-pound skid to pull short distances three or four times during the training.  Geray, of Hillsboro, N.D., has been competing in draft horse pulling since 1989.  “The competition is the big thing, the comradery amongst all the horse pullers, the friends you make,” he said. “I get to travel to a lot of places that I don’t normally go.”  He typically competes in 12 to 15 events a year. Horse pulling is a hobby for Geray and if his team does well, he said he can win enough to pay for his trips.  But, he said, you need a horse with the heart to do it. Drivers use voice commands, not whips, to urge their teams forward.  “It’s really impressive, the power,” he said. “Just from the standpoint of traction, they can probably pull as much as a 60-horse tractor.”  Geray recently won the percentage pull division at the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City, N.D., when his horses, Frank and Ike, pulled 9,300 pounds, nearly 266 percent of their combined weight.  In the percentage pull, teams compete to see who can pull the most weight as a percentage of their body weight.  There’s also a weight pull division, where teams compete to pull the most weight overall.  Marshall Krueger, a 16-year-old from Bangor, Wis., won the Winter Show’s weight pull division when his team of King and Petonia pulled 9,300 pounds.  While drivers say the competition is intense, they also do it for the socialization.  “It’s fun,” Krueger said. “It’s competitive, but after the horse pull we all sit around and talk to each other.”  For many, horse pulling is a family affair.  Krueger said he started because his grandpa and great-grandpa did it. Both Geray’s dad and son are also involved.  Hank Geray, Paul’s dad, became interested in horse pulling after his son started doing it.  “I like the competition,” he said. “You work at it and you can accomplish something.”  He said he also likes having his son and grandson involved.  While horse pulling drew a crowd at the Winter Show, Paul Geray said it’s not quite as popular here as in other parts of the country, where he said it’s huge. Rick Byrne of Regina, Saskatchewan, has been involved in horse pulling for more than 20 years. He said he typically competes in 14 or 15 pulls a year. “For people who like horses, the big value of it is training your horses, getting them in really good shape in order for them to pull,” he said. “You have to have them in really good physical condition and well fed, well taken care of.”  He says it helps that draft horses like pulling, and they like to work. But, he said, training and conditioning are not all that’s needed. “You have to have faith, a lot of faith in your horses, and they have to have a little bit of faith in you,” he said.
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