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For love of a horse pull competition

Jim Anderson of Bangor, Wis., leads his team of Belgian horses, Mark and Cap, in the 3,000 lb. and under weight class at the Hokah Fire Department Horse Pull Sunday in Hokah, Minn. The team pulled the 8,500 lb. sled nine feet to earn second place. (Photo by Andrew Link/Winona Daily News)

HOKAH, Minn. — It was all about horse power Sunday at the Hokah Fire Department Horse Pull.

Teams of two horses pulled cement blocks behind them as their owners steered them on. Weight usually starts around 3,500 to 4,000 pounds with 1,000 pounds added each round until you get to about 7,500 pounds. Then, only 500 pounds is added at a time.

The goal: to see which horses can pull the most weight in the required 27½ feet.

“It’s strenuous but not real hard work,” said 38-year-old Jim Anderson from Bangor, Wis. “They’re working for a short period of time.”

Anderson’s team of Belgians — Cap, age 10, and Mark, age 7 — competed Sunday in the 3,000 pounds and under category. Cap has been pulling for about five years and Mark for two. He says they like pulling.

“They’re just eager to do it,” Anderson said. “Draft horses like to be worked. They seem lonely when they’re in a pasture doing nothing.”

In the world of horse pulls, Anderson says it’s mostly male horses doing the pulling. He says mares don’t have enough power.

“They’ll keep pulling longer, and they’ll try harder though,” Anderson said.

Anderson has been competing at horse pulls for 25 years. He says he’d rather drive a team of horses than a car any day.

“You’re working with nature. It’s just you and your horses,” Anderson said.

His 16-year-old daughter Ashley is following in his footsteps, steering her own team and helping dad hook his team to the boat, which holds the weight.

As one of the few women involved in the sport, she says guys often offer to hook for her. She politely declines, even though the sport is not without its dangers including smashed fingers and toes. The first time Ashley hooked a team, she got hit in the knee. But there’s only one thing to do after a fall.

“You just have to get up, dust yourself off and prove ’em wrong,” Ashley said.

Seventy-three-year-old Virgil Perry has been doing horse pulls for more than 40 years. He even met his second wife Dawn at a horse pull. Dawn, 45, didn’t know much about horse pulls back then but now pays such close attention that she keeps track of all the competitors with a log, listing who and how much was pulled.

“Once you know all about it, it’s fun to watch,” Dawn said.

“You get the disease,” Virgil said.

The Blair, Wis., couple travel all over the country to watch and compete in horse pulls. One year, Virgil competed in 54 horse pulls.

On Sunday, Virgil entered his team of Pete and King in the heavyweights division. He estimated that the pair of Belgians weighs about 4,100 pounds.

He lets them relax under an awning while the other divisions compete and gives them plenty of water.

“You’ve got to love ‘em like I do,” Virgil said.

Dawn admits she tried talking him out of the horse pull Sunday because of the 90 plus degree heat. She knew it was no use.

“He eats, sleeps and breathes for this,” Dawn said. “The horses come in first and I come in second. His daughters say at least I’m second.”

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