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Mighty horses pull more than their weight at fair

By Dusty Luthy

Think your truck can carry a heavy load? The other horsepower, draft horses, can pull nearly three times their own weight in a draft horse pull.

Thirteen teams of Belgian horses representing five states dug their rough-shod hooves into the dirt at the pulling track Wednesday night at the Laclede County Fairgrounds.

For the event, a team of two draft horses is harnessed together and hooked to a sled carrying concrete blocks. The sled starts out light, but increases generally by 1,000 pounds per round.

Teams had to pull the sled 15 feet to qualify for the next round.

"You get three pulls (per round), said Doug Gray of Kingfisher, Okla., "but not very many people use all three. You get the most out of the first pull because the horses are freshest then."

Gray said his horses were capable of pulling between 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of weight.

"It all depends on the sled and the ground," he admitted.

The driver must back the horses to the sled while someone else quickly hooks the horses to the sled. As soon as the horses sense they are fastened, they take off.

"When they get in front of that sled, they get pretty excited," said Gray.

Robert Poole, of Windyville, said the draft horse pull in Lebanon dates back to the early 1980s.

"Back then, they had some farm pulls and that's when I started and I bought my first big pair in '83 and I'm going to say they've had it since '80," Poole said.

Poole's wife, Jackie, said the family essentially was the middleman in organizing the draft horse pull for the fair this year.

"We've kind of been the go-between," Jackie said, "(Fair board president) Glenn (Raef) called Robert and Robert called Danny (Gray) and set everything up."

The Laclede County Fair gave $200 to the winner, with last place receiving $100.

Gray said he travels to more than 30 draft horse pulls in a year all over the United States.

Gray's brother, Daniel, who is from Villisca, Iowa, organized the event with the Iowa Draft Horse Pulling Association.

Gray said he tries to go to as many pulls put together by his brother, but said traveling to Iowa was a stretch sometimes.

"I try to hit all of his I can," Gray said, "I don't go to too many in Iowa; there's too many by me."

Gray said he started pulling with ponies when he was younger, but took a break before he began with draft horses.

"I quit in the '80s and the '90s," Gray said. "I was roping then."

Gray said he began with draft horses in 1999. He brought two teams to the pull. George and Stringbean together weigh 3,300 pounds. Stringbean got his name because he is tall with long legs, said Gray.

Gray's other team, Hank and Mike, weigh 3,600 pounds.

Of Hank and Mike, one of the horses lost a shoe during the event, preventing them from competing further.

Jackie Poole said that the family's four Belgian horses were conditioned much the same way that athletes are.

"Usually, oh I don't know, you might start out maybe 20 mintues then try to go to 30 minutes to get them hard," Jackie Poole said. "We have a big earth-mover tire, we have two of them, one's a little heavier than the other, and Robert will start them out on the lighter one and then he'll work up to the heavier. It's like a weightlifter, you condition these on the tires. You want them to build up their muscles."

She said what works for them certainly isn't what works for every team.

"Everybody's different," she said. "(Sometimes) all they do is pull sleds, some of the guys log with them, but we find that working them on the tires works for us better."

"Right now we're trying to hay," Jackie said, "so we're not putting as much time in the horses as we'd like."

Jackie said the pull at Lebanon was the first in the season for the family, but said it was a pastime that they enjoyed.

"It's just good people," Jackie said. "There are new people and then you know the same ones over and over and talk horse-trade. It's kind of word of mouth where you go for each pull."

Jimmy Davis came from New Albany, Miss. to pull with his horses, Bob and Rex.

"I just came to see my friends," he said in a thick Southern drawl.

Davis said he had come in part to see good friend, Gary Sligger from Success.

Davis uses his horses only for recreation, but said farming was in his blood.

"My people did it, just handed down, I guess," he said.

Davis said he will stay in Missouri for two or three days before going home.

With a team of horses weighing in excess of 3,500 pounds, the animals can pack a hard punch if provoked.

The Poole family understands this all too well.

Jackie said she was cleaning one of the horses in the barn, when she told her 6-year-old daughter, Ranae, not to come in with her.

"And I turned back to the gate and I heard her say, 'Whoa, Dave,' and I thought, so much for minding me. And then I heard her cry out and I turned back around and she was on the ground. I said, 'Ranae, what happened?' and she said, 'He kicked me,' and of course I screamed, 'Dave, what did you do?' and he knew immediately."

She said their dog had run between the horse's legs, spooking him into kicking at the dog, but instead, kicked Ranae.

Jackie said outwardly, the horse did little damage.

"Honestly from the mark, it didn't look that bad," Jackie said.

Inwardly, however, the kick took its toll.

Doctors found that Ranae had a torn spleen and kidney.

Jackie said the event has made them all more cautious around the powerful animals, knowing that something could happen in an instant.

Daniel Gray from Villisca, Iowa drives his team of Belgian horses Wednesday night at the Laclede County Fair. "Dave" and "Shorty" pulled 8700 pounds nearly two feet to win fifth place in the draft horse pull. Weighing in at 3,700 pounds, the team pulled 5,000 pounds more than their own weight. LDR photos/Dusty Luthy

By Dusty Luthy


Article courtesy of The Lebanon Daily Record

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