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Pound-for-pound fun: Horse-pull events at the fair

Rex and Bob, a team of 6-year-old Belgian horses weighing in at almost 4,000 pounds, prepare to be hooked up by owner Jim Cripe (in red) and his crew.

Considered the new guy on the job, A.J. was the one of his team still getting the hang of things during Monday's horse pulling competition.

He had to remember to warm up his muscles so as not to get hurt and he had techniques to go over in his head before the competition started. And, of course, there were those nervous jitters to avoid, along with the stares from other competitors aimed at taking home top prize that day.

Luckily, A.J. had a veteran with him to coach him through. His partner, Fred, had been involved in horse pulling for years. So Fred knew what he was doing.

Together, many of their competitors said they were the team to beat.

Fred, 7, and A.J., 5, were a team of Belgian horses that had traveled from Stalwart, Mich., to the Emmet-Charlevoix County Fair to compete in the annual horse pulling competition.

Like many of their fellow competitors, Fred and A.J. had worked hard preparing for this day of competition. They had worked with each other, and their handler, Dave Esslin, for months. Each day they worked out, pulling a weighted sled for four to five hours. That's hundreds of miles and thousands of pounds of pulling in preparation.

But Fred and A.J. had some stiff competition.

Rex and Bob, weighing in at nearly 4,000 pounds together, were a team of 6-year-old Belgians that had traveled from Goetzville with their handler, Jim Cripe.

While they haven't worked together long, Rex and Bob had spent all summer training, logging more than 200 miles, sometimes 10 hours a day, pulling a sled weighing up to 1,000 pounds.

And then there was Doc and Junior, a relatively new team to the horse pulling circuit from Freeland. Doc, 7, and Junior, 9, just began pulling this summer, but even they had already begun a training regimen of six miles a day.

But when it came to the competition, each team knew it was more than just what type of preparation they had made. It was more than the hours spent building their muscles. Pulling took concentration.

In the ring, Rex and Bob and the other teams had to dedicate their energy to working together. They had to line up together, try not to get an early start on a particular pull and they had to pull as one horse, one never going a faster speed than the other.

In the end, it wasn't about which team was stronger or had trained harder. To be a good horse pulling team, you have to have heart.

Article courtesy of Petosky New Review

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