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Horse pulling has successful debut


OBSERVER Photo by Joel Cuthbert
Roger Fuller, a driver with R&R Window Contractors of Easthampton, Mass, lunges forward as his team begins pulling 3,800 pounds.

After more than 100 years, the Chautauqua County Fair continues to offer something new to visitors each and every year.

And this year was no exception, as fairgoers were treated to a Herculean display of horse strength at the Budweiser Grandstand for the first time ever. Thursday evening featured the debut of competitive horse pulling at the Chautauqua County Fair - courtesy of the New York State Horse Pulling Association - reminding those in attendance of the true meaning of "horsepower."

"This is regional competition and the interest on the part of the fair board was to provide more diversity of Budweiser Grandstand events," Randall Brown, Public Relations Representative for the Chautauqua County Fair, said previously about the decision to bring horse pulling to the fairgrounds this year.

"For the past several years it has been predominately motor sports focused and we wanted to provide more diversity for fairgoers to enjoy."

While the stands weren't packed Thursday for this debut event, those who were present were left in awe by the size and power of the different pulling teams.

In a world now powered by the mechanical motor, the competition stands as a throwback to a bygone era when horses were more than mere farm fixtures, and a tribute to the awesome strength of these beautiful animals.

According to Roger Fuller, a teamster with R&R Window Contractors of Easthampton, Mass., horse pulling has a long history which dates back to a time when horses were the primary source of transportation and labor for farmers. In addition, he said the sport has become a long-running tradition among teamsters, noting he knows drivers who have been pulling for more than 60 years.

"This was back when horses were very important," he explained. "Now, they don't really work them like they used to. Back in the heyday, they used to do all the farming with horses; they logged with horses, and what it was that started it was they said 'well, we all got horses, let's have a contest.' Now, they don't really work other than to exercise and keep in shape."

Although the event marked the first competition at the Chautauqua County fairgrounds, Fuller said the sport is popular elsewhere throughout the state and country. There's around two dozen horse pulls in New York state alone, he added, with teams from all over traveling the circuit.

Horses compete in two separate divisions: lightweight, with horses weighing less than 3,325 pounds as a team, and heavyweight, with horses weighing upwards of a ton each. The majority of the horses competing were Belgians, Fuller said, though there was also a pair of Percherons in the lightweight division.

All of the horses, despite weight and breed, are trained specifically for these competitions.

"They're like athletes; we work them every day unless we pull them," he said.

For the competition, teams of horses were hooked to a truck equipped with a dynamometer and required to pull increasingly heavy loads 27.5 feet in order to qualify for the next weight, with three chances to qualify. The starting weight for the lightweight division was 2,800 pounds while the starting weight for the heavyweight division was 3,000 pounds.

"So the one that wins is basically the one that pulls the heaviest load the furthest distance," Fuller explained.

Throughout most of the competition, especially with the heavyweight division, it was a four man job reining in the massive horses to hook them to the truck. Once attached and urged on, the teams dragged the truck around like a little toy, straining forward and snorting fiercely as they dug their cleated hooves in and pulled.

Out of the 10 teams in the lightweight division, Francis Root, of Bolivar, N.Y., took first, pulling 25 feet, 2 inches at 3,800 pounds; Travis Proper took second, pulling 22 feet, 9 inches at 3,800 pounds; R&R Window Contractors, of Easthampton, Mass. took third with one team, pulling 20 feet, 4 inches at 3,800 pounds; Doug Smith, of Richford, N.Y., took fourth with one team, pulling 18 feet, 1 inch at 3,800 pounds; R&R Window Contractors took fifth with another team, pulling 7 feet, 10 inches at 3,800 pounds; Wayne Dodge, of Oswego, N.Y., took sixth, pulling 25 feet, 7 inches at 3,600 pounds; Sonny Brown, of Quarry, Pa., took seventh, pulling 25 feet, 5 inches at 3,600 pounds; Ken Enders, of Belfast, N.Y., took eighth, pulling 26 feet at 3,400 pounds; Jim Perrin, of Hornell, N.Y., took ninth, pulling 5 feet, 8 inches at 3,400 pounds; and Doug Smith took tenth with another team, pulling 17 feet, 11 inches at 3,200 pounds.

Out of the eight teams in the heavyweight division, R&R Window Contractors took first and second with two teams, pulling a qualifying distance at 4,250 pounds but stopping after the remaining competition was knocked out; Nick Nesbitt, of Waterport, N.Y., took third, pulling 25 feet, 1 inch at 4,250 pounds; Francis Root took fourth, pulling 14 feet, 10 inches at 4,250 pounds; Don Middaugh Sr., of Friendship, NY, took fifth, pulling 14 feet, 9 inches at 4,250 pounds; Larue Austin, of Columbia Crossroads, Pa., took sixth, pulling 11 feet, 9 inches at 4,250; Bill Fisher, of Interlaken, NY, took seventh, pulling 19 feet, 2 inches at 4,000 pounds; and Harold McAfoose, of Sugar Grove, Pa., took eighth, pulling 14 feet, 8 inches at 3,500.

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