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100th state fair draws to a close
Draft-horse pull has its loyal fans

By Joseph Gerth
The Courier-Journal

Dennis and Judi Winstead of Lexington drove to Louisville on the last day of the 100th Kentucky State Fair for one reason they wanted to see the draft-horse pull, an event that pits beast against building blocks.

"I've never seen one of these before," Dennis Winstead said. "But for me, get rid of everything else here and keep this."

A buddy of his had told him of the pull the traditional final event of the fair and he figured he'd check it out.

"It's amazing how much they pull," he said as a couple of Belgians dug in and dragged a sled loaded with about 6,000 pounds of concrete blocks in Broadbent Arena. He said he had seen friends use horses to pull up stumps, but nothing like this.

Amanda Storment, the fair board's vice president for public relations, said the horse pull is always on the last day of the fair. Although it doesn't attract a huge crowd, it has a devoted following.

Take Tommy and Nancy Camden of Burgin, just east of Harrodsburg. She's been going to horse pulls since she was a girl in Ohio and she's attended the one at the Kentucky State Fair for most of the last 16 or 17 years, she said.

"I appreciate the strength of the horses and how hard they try," she said. "I like the all-around teammanship between the horse and the owner."

For Gilbert Thomas, 60, of Shelby County, the event took him back to his youth, when all the family's horsepower was provided by horses. "I've broken ground with a horse, plowed corn with a horse, plowed tobacco with a horse. I've done it all," he said.

Thomas said he had never been to a horse pull before, but he and a friend went to the fair yesterday just to see it.

It's a fairly simple contest.

The idea is to pull a loaded sled 271/2 feet. Contestants have three tries to do it. If they succeed, they load another 1,000 pounds of blocks on the sled and do it again.

It generally takes about three people to get the horses pulling one person on the reins and two hooking the harness to the sled and quickly jumping out of the way.

"Then you hope they go. They're about as unpredictable as your wife," said Phillip Burton of Columbia, who started competing in the pulls about 35 years ago with his father.

The horses are divided into two classes teams of two that weigh a total of 3,325 pounds and less, and teams that weigh more. At yesterday's pull, there were 15 teams in the lower weight classification and 13 in the higher class.

Most of the horses were Belgians, but there were a few Percherons. The horses are trained solely to compete in the pulls.

Storment said officials are expecting the final tally of attendance at this year's fair to be good, after a downward trend in recent years.

The numbers, which will be calculated this week, were boosted by sizable crowds at free concerts, including about 15,000 for the Brad Paisley concert Thursday, Storment said.

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