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Pulling competitions demonstrate original meaning of 'horse power'


FARMINGTON -- According to historical accounts, James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, sought a way to compare the power of his machine with the traditional four-legged one.

In the mid-1700's, he coined the phrase "horse power" to define the force exerted to lift 33,000 pounds at the rate of one foot per minute. Two hundred years later, Belgian draft horses Pete and Spike wait with their owners, Toby Mosher and his 12-year-old son Noah, for their turn to demonstrate that massive might at the Farmington Fair.

Toby's father, Herbert Mosher, Jr., and uncle Terry Mosher stand at the far end of the long exhibition pavilion, judging other teams after each pulls the length of the track as many times as possible in five minutes.

Nearby, Toby's wife Robin and daughters Cassidy and Morgan waited with other team owners.

"Noah and Toby are nicknames," Robin said. "Noah is Herbert Mosher IV, so we've got three of the four generations here today."

Noah helps with the four horses' daily training and exercise at the family's home in Temple.

"I like how big and gentle they are," he said.

During the fair, he galloped them bareback across a remote part of the fairground, clearly enjoying the chance to show the colossal horses to fairgoers who stood along the fence at the edge of the field.

"We've been doing these competitions for the past 13 years," Toby Mosher said. "It's getting expensive, because the grain and the hay cost a lot, and gas to go to the fairs is a lot more this year."

Father and son snapped the harness hooks onto the daunting cement and sled weight of 6150 pounds, a little over three tons.

"Teams have to pull twice their combined body weight," Mosher explained.

The horses wear a spiked shoe, with an oversized metal cleat on the front and back that digs into the dirt for traction. The custom-made footwear is forged by Toby's father.

In the 12-foot elimination competition, Slim and Frank, the Mosher's second team, pulled an 8500-pound sled in a 12-foot lane to place fourth. Each round is 500 pounds heavier, and each team must pull the sled without stopping to remain in competition.

"We're happy with what our horses did today," Mosher said.

The family will finish the pulling competitions at the Cumberland and Fryeburg Fairs in the next three weeks.

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