Horse pulling boasts
long tradition at fair
by Felix Doligosa Jr., Portland Press Herald Writer
Fryeburg - Barney's and Dan's lower back
muscles strained and contorted with every step they took - at times they lost
their footing. Dragging 5,000 pounds on a sled wasn't only a test of
strength for the Belgian horses, but also for their owner, whose forehead and
hat were drenched in sweat after whooping and whipping the animals for five
minutes. "It's a workout," said Mark Tolman of Linclon.
At the Fryeburg Fair, the sport of horse
pulling showcases the strength of these massive animals and represents a
livestock rivalry once found among farmers at the turn of the century.
"Horse pulling was mainly used to
transport lumber in the woods," said Jim Deschambeault, the fair's livestock
superintendent. "It comes down to arguing about my horse can pull more
then your." Horse pulling began in the early 1900's, when farmers would
bet neighboring farms that their animals could pull more weight. The sport
gained popularity and even prompted concerns from some animal rights activists.
Today, horse pulling has become a sport that can be found at almost every fair.
"Competitors come to Fryeburg from all
around the country, like Michigan, Connecticut, Pennsylvania," Deschambeault
said. "It's quite an event."
Competing in pairs, the horses are
strapped in harnesses and drag a sled carrying anywhere from 500 to thousands of
pounds of concrete. The horses are judged on how far they can drag the
weight in five minutes, and teams at the Fryeburg Fair win cash prizes ranging
As Barney and Dan took 15 second breathers
from dragging the weight in Saturday's event, the packed pulling ring arena
responded with claps. Tolman kept shouting and pushing the horses to cross
the white chalk line.
"I enjoy it. It's a hobby for me,"
To suggestions that the sport is inhumane,
many pulling contestants argue that the Belgian horse is built to drag large
amounts of weight.
"These horses are born to pull," said
horse owner Jessica Tibbetts of Livermore. "If they don't, they will get
fat. It's like a couch potato who watches television and eats all day."
Bigger then show horses, Belgian horses
are the sport's athletes, with some weighing in as much as 2,700 pounds.
Like a weightlifter hitting the weights, preparing to get stronger for the clean
and jerk, these equines build their strength from spring until summer.
"I work my animals dragging weight around
10 miles a day," said Bob Tibbetts, a horse owner from Jay. "Like any
athlete, this is their conditioning. When they train, they eat 50 pounds
of grain in a day. When they vacation all winter, they just eat the
Standing six feet tall to the back of its
neck and weighing 1,700 pounds, the horse called Batman with its enormous hind
legs, had fair onlookers ooing and aahhing. His regular partner, Robin, is
just as big but did not make it to the fair.
"Batman is a big baby," Jessica Tibbetts
said. "They're all big babies."
These horses may be babies, but most of
them are not riding animals. It would take a small ladder to mount some of
Barney and Dan didn't look like they were
ready to ride after dragging their heavy load 384 feet. After competing
the run, Tolman brought the animals back to the stable to rest. "It's a
lot of work," he said.
Article appears courtesy of the
Portland Press Herald online