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They'll be pulling more than their own weight

A horse pulling contest is expected to lure crowds into the new February Farm Festival & Quilt Show at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 19, 2003


DADE CITY - First the "Sport of Kings" galloped into town with the annual Little Everglades Steeplechase horse racing event, now Dade City is about to see a whole new kind of horse power.

The Pioneer Florida Museum and Village this week announced plans to present a February Farm Festival & Quilt Show, featuring the first Dade City Horse Pulling Championship.

Event director Sean Kessler said the horse pulling event on Feb. 8, sponsored by the Southern Draft Horse Association, is expected to draw up to 10,000 people to the two-day festival.

In addition to quilts and historic exhibits, spectators can see teams of horses weighing up to 2,500 pounds each haul a 7,000-pound sled along a course nearly 30 feet long.

Fans of the sport say it's a crowd-pleasing throwback to the old days on the farm, when powerful horses were called upon to do everything from pulling a plow to hauling timber.

"It started more than 100 years ago," said Bill Torrey, founder of the Internet site "The farmers would get together on the weekend to see who had the strongest pair of horses. It was for bragging rights."

Horse pulling has been a popular sport for decades in the Northeast and Midwest, but only in the past 12 years or so has it grown in Florida, he said. As horse pull enthusiasts from up North retired and began wintering in Florida, they started bringing their horses.

Glen Yoder, secretary of Florida's Southern Draft Horse Association, said the association was formed as more pullers settled in Florida and wanted to compete.

Yoder said it's hard not to like horse pull competitors and their huge horses.

"Everyone is very friendly. We love to talk to people," Yoder said. "The horses are very special. We call them our gentle giants."

Torrey, who said he attends 40 to 45 horse pulls a year, said spectators always are welcome to talk with the owners before and after an event.

"Probably the only thing they like better than pulling is talking about it," Torrey said.

Kessler said as a museum supporter he was eager to help develop new ways to bring people to the facility. The Pioneer Days festival on Labor Day weekend draws thousands to the grounds along Dade City's northern boundary. But with more events, the museum can grow and generate more money for expansion, he said.

The first-time event is actively courting sponsors, he said.

Dade City, he said, is in a unique position to attract some of the best horses from the Midwestern and Northern summer and fall circuits.

"These are the champions of a lot of the Midwest county fairs," Kessler said.

"These are the biggest of the big, the best of the best."

Testing horsepower on the track

The sport of horse pulling dates back more than 100 years, to the days when farmers depended on their horses to provide the power for the daily chores. Today, the sport tests giant horses as they pull weighted sleds or carts on a track up to 30 feet long.

Horses pull in one of two categories. The lightweight category is for two-horse teams weighing less than a combined 3,400 pounds. Heavyweights are teams above 3,400 pounds.

Teams get three tries to make the full distance. Once teams have pulled the sled the length of the course, more weight is added for a new pull.

Individual horses can weigh well more than 2,500 pounds and can cost more than $50,000.

The Pioneer Museum and Village February Farm Festival and Quilt Show is scheduled for Feb. 7 and 8. Horse pulling is scheduled for Feb. 8.

- Source: and Southern Draft HorseAssociation

Article courtesy of St. Petersburg Times

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