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Local horses compete at Farm Show

The Tribune-Democrat

EBENSBURG — The new St. Francis University head football coach has been charged with transforming a struggling team into winners.

But Chris Villarrial says it is similar to the work he does on his horse farm outside Ebensburg.

The former NFL offensive lineman spends his free time raising and training draft horses.

Two of Villarrial’s teams of Belgian horses will be competing Tuesday at the 2010 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

“It’s a lot like working with the athletes,” Villarrial said. “A lot of repetition and a lot of conditioning.

“Lugging (pulling) is almost like a bench press for humans.”

Like most football players, the horses are very large and well muscled.

As the name implies, these horses are native to Belgium in Europe.

Draft horses – which also include Clydesdales and Percherons – were bred for farm and industrial work.

Belgians were even used to carry knights into battle, according to the Belgian Draft Horse Corp. of America.

Villarrial’s biggest horse, George, weighs 2,650 pounds.

His tallest stands 18.1 hands.

The average horse is between 14 and 15 hands tall.

A hand is 4 inches. Horses are measured from the ground to the withers – the b­ase of the neck.

This is Villarrial’s second year competing. In 2009, his team got a third-place award.

Two other local men also are expected to compete in the farm show’s draft horse category – Billy Howard of Somerset and Ray Long of Sidman.

In competition, the horses are attached to a sled that must be pulled for 27 feet.

Weight, up to 12,000 pounds, is added until the weaker teams are weeded out.

Although Villarrial would like to place again this year, he says he is up against some steep competition.

“We just want to go down and compete and learn each year,” he said. “I’m doing it for fun right now.”

While the competing may be enjoyable, Villarrial acknowledges it also takes a lot of work.

Each team of horses undergoes exercise for two to 31/2 hours each day.

Villarrial has seven of the giant beasts and each has to be groomed daily.

And, of course, they need to be fed and stalls must be cleaned frequently.

The largest of the horses eats two buckets of feed a day (about 40 pounds) and a bale and a half of hay. In the summer, each horse requires about 30 gallons of water.

“It’s a full-time job,” Villarrial said.

Although he has help from family and friends, he still does the bulk of the work.

A normal day means work at the university, home for dinner with his wife, Kristen, and three young children, and then to the barn to work with the horses.

“But it’s relaxing on a stressful day,” he said.

Villarrial admitted that he has a favorite horse.

“George is a big athlete, but so docile the kids ride him,” he said. “He’s just a great horse to be around.

“I ride him all over the place. He’s my baby. Everywhere he goes, he’s a barn favorite.”

Villarrial said the horses do more than train for pulling competitions.

They also are used to pull the manure spreader around the fields. Manure, Villarrial said with a grin, is plentiful on the farm.

The hay that is grown is used to feed the horses.

“It gives a sense of really what our forefathers went through,” Villarrial said. “They pulled trees and everything with horses.”

Although the horses aren’t saying, Villarrial believes they enjoy working as well as competing.

“They know as soon as they see that sled,” he said. “You’ll see their ears go back and they get all pumped up. They know what’s going on.”

Article courtesy of The Tribune Democrat


Chris Villarrial prepares George, his biggest horse, for an afternoon workout on his farm outside Ebensburg.

George and another horse, Dan, get some exercise by pulling Villarrial around the farm in a practice buggy.

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