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Horse pulling makes comeback at fair
Old tradition returns
By RICK OLIVO
The Daily Press
Tuesday, September 06th, 2005 09:56:45 AM

 
Rick Olivo

Giving a mighty effort, pulling horses "Jerry" and "Vic" pulled 10,000 pounds of deadweight concrete blocks to win the horse pull at the Ashland County Fair. Owner and driver, 77 year-old Chuck Shaw, of Chetek, has been competing in horse-pulling competitions for over 50 years. "I was always a horse-crazy guy" he said.

 

MARENGO They still sell roasted sweet corn ears and smoked turkey legs at the Ashland County Fair. The pungent smells of the livestock barn still blend with the fragrant sweetness of hay and pine sawdust.

The wonder and excitement on a small child's face are still commonplace at the fair's carnival, and the shrieks of girls as they cling to their boyfriends on the thrill rides are as high-pitched as ever.

There are some things that don't seem to change much at the Ashland County Fair, and that's pretty much the way people like it.

"I've been coming to the fair for years, since I was about their size," said Valerie Green of Ashland.

Her one year old son Ethan and four year old daughter Payton petted a lop-eared rabbit named Toby that sat twitching its nose on the lap of Betsy Johnson in the poultry and small animal barn.

"We're having a great time, riding all the rides and seeing all the animals," said Greene.

There was a little of everything for the fair-goer, from music to rides, to exhibits and a long line of food concessions.

In the grandstand, there were ATV drag races, lawnmower and four-wheeler pulls, mini-rod pulls and motocross for those who love the roar of high-octane motor-driven thunder.

But for real raw horsepower, the horse pull couldn't be beat.

Back to the County Fair after a 25 year absence, the horse pull events were an unforgettable demonstration of brute animal power as huge steel-shod Belgian draft horses pounded their powerful legs into the soft dirt of the grandstand track, pulling loads of up to 10,000 pounds of deadweight concrete monoliths on a steel sled.

The eventual winner of the event was a mild-mannered elderly farmer named Chuck Shaw of Chetek.

Shaw might not have been anywhere near as imposing as his massive equine duo of "Jerry" and "Vic," but his sure, practiced handling of his team made the win look almost easy as the two draft horses pulled the sled down the track again and again as lesser teams strained in vain against the increasing loads.

"I'm 77 years old and I've been pulling horses for 63 years," he grinned as sweat and grit from the track dripped from his weathered face.

For Shaw, entering pulling events with his big friends is just a natural extension of his everyday life.

"We still farm with horses, you know. When I first got into pulling, I had just a little team of horses when I went the first time. I did good, and I got the fever, so here I am," he laughed.

Shaw said he was still awed to see the strength power and energy his horses were willing to put into their pulling efforts.

"The energy those horses are putting out is unbelievable," he said.

Shaw said his pulling horses were blue-collar animals, who work every day.

"They are worked five to seven miles every day at home. They are in boxed stalls with shavings, and the best of feed and the best hay we can grow for them. They are well taken care of," he said.

Indeed, a pair of top class pulling horses are the stars of the draft horse world.

"They are pro athletes is what they are," he said. "They come out walking slow, but when you swing in front, watch it because they are going to give you all they've got."

In Shaw's case, that's plenty. The Ashland County Fair pull was the seventh in a row he has won.

Once the pull is over, and the horses are unharnessed, they become surprisingly gentle and docile, curiously eyeing the awe-struck visitors who hesitatingly come up to pet their massively muscled shoulders; gently stroking their muzzles and gazing into their intelligent eyes.

"They are just big babies," he said affectionately.

Shaw recalled visiting the Ashland County Fair for pulling contests in the past. He said he was pleased that the event had been brought back.

"The crowd really enjoyed it; they really clapped when they asked if they should have another one, they were thrilled with it," he said.

If another pull is held at the Ashland County Fair, Shaw said he'd be back. At an age when many other men are long since retired from strenuous activities, Shaw has no plans to give up horse pulling.

Just how long does he plan to keep meeting the challenge of weight and horsepower?

"As long as I am able," he said with a wide grin.

Article courtesy of Daily Press Online



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