Muncie family works, and wins, with pulling horses
Tom Humbert and his dog Fred take a couple laps around
their track to give his team a workout. The Humbert family men have competed in
horse pulling for years. Monday they spoke with The Star Press in their horse
barn on W. White Road. / Kurt Hostetler/The Star Press
A knowledge of horses, especially huge horses, comes naturally to Tom Humbert.
“My daddy logged, and I was always in the woods with the horses,” he
recalled. “We still get a lot of logs out with the horses.”
As he spoke, he was in the cavernous barn of his southside property, dressed
in coveralls with a well-worn straw hat topping his bald head. Against a nearby
wall, meanwhile, about five tons of massive Belgian horses named Tony, Tom,
Marvin and Maynard stood passively in their leather harnesses, their short
golden tails swishing flies away.
Two of those horses, driven by Tom’s son Timmy, recently took top honors in
the Indiana State Fair pulling contest, having dragged 11,500 pounds of sled
loaded with concrete bricks across more than 27 feet of dirt.
Winning that contest is nothing new for Tom, whose horses also won it in
1982, 1983 and 2000, and who also recently won a national championship pulling
13,000 pounds more than 23 feet.
Then there were near-misses for state titles in 1986, 1987 and 1988.
“One year we lost by an inch,” said Tom’s other son, Tommie. “The next year
we lost by two inches. The next year we lost by a foot.”
Looking up old records, Tommie thumb-flipped through horse-pulling websites
on his cell phone, an incongruous-looking convenience in this place where the
presence of giant horses, Tom’s faithful dog, Fred, and these friendly,
down-to-earth people amounted to a scene that could have come from a century
Of course, the goats helped set the mood, too, piercing eyes checking out the
visitors as they lounged placidly outside the barn, where their mere presence is
said to somehow help keep the horses within it healthy and at peace.
“It does make a difference,” Tommie said.
Centered on their horses, the Humberts seem a remarkably tight-knit group,
from the family patriarch to granddaughters Lexi Humbert, 10, and Delci Reeder,
8, who also pull, albeit with ponies.
“It’s a family thing, really,” said the soft-spoken Tom, whose father won
championship titles as well, noting they travel to competitions as a clan and
enjoy the company of fellow pullers. “We’ve got a lot of friends from just all
over the world.”
“It’s a bad addiction,” joked Timmy, of their passion, which is also shared
by older grandchildren Margee and Brea Reeder, aged 23 and 17, respectively.
“Margee can drive the horses just as good as anyone,” Tommie said.
Like everything else these days, what was once a pretty simple hobby, or
addiction, is becoming more and more costly, with top pulling horses fetching as
much as $125,000. A true mark of the family nature of the Humberts‘ involvement,
however, is that when a man recently made an offer for one of their horses, Tom
wanted to sell it, but had to defer to check with the family.
They took a family vote, and Tom lost.
In exercising the gentle, towering beasts, Timmy and Tom took the reins on
the primitive-looking sleds to which they were harnessed, then steered them from
the barn and through the farm lot onto a nearby track of dirt and rock, the
metallic knobs on their collar hames gleaming in the sun. With the horses’
massive haunches knotting with muscle, they pulled the sleds around twice with
ease, then back into the barn.
The key to winning pulls?
“Have good horses,” Timmy said with a laugh.
Come cooler months, Tommie added, this barn with its loose dirt floor and
scores of spent, dusty horseshoes racked on a cross beam is a place of horses
and basketball, the Humberts’ other passion.
When it’s time to work, though, into the winter woods they go, preferred by
many land-owners who say hauling out logs with machinery is too destructive, and
driven by men as tough as the horses that work for them.
If you think that image harkens to a simpler time, a better time, even a more
beautiful time, Tom would agree.
“It’s going back to the old way, but you know what?” he said, gazing at the
horses he loves. “It’s peaceful.”
Article courtesy of TheStarpress.com