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Couple pulls weight at reunion

Competitors also do time as volunteers for annual event.

By NICHOLAS BERGIN

nbergin@thehawkeye.com

MOUNT PLEASANT -- If you ask any of the judges or competitors at the 2009 Old Threshers Reunion horse pull who the better driver is, Joe Miller or his wife Fannie Miller, the answer will likely be something along the lines of:

"Today or tomorrow," which is how 12-year veteran Judge Bob Davidson of Stanwood answered the question Monday.

One of the only, if not the only, married couple touring the country competing in horse pulls, the Millers seem to take turns beating each other.

At Old Threshers Monday, Fannie took second place and Joe took third. The only competitor to best them was Ed Allen Smock of Clarence, Mo.

Every year, about 80 horses help power Old Threshers running threshing machines, saw mills and grinders, as well as pulling wagon loads full of visitors.

But the 24 horses competing in the horse pull are the burly peak of equine power. The sled-pulling competition is by invitation only and only 12 drivers are invited each year.

"If you get invited to Mount Pleasant it's really an honor because you pull in front of a lot of people here, and they really appreciate it," Fannie said of the event.

The Miller's first made their way to Old Threshers in 1996, when organizers asked Joe to participate in the annual horse pull because someone else backed out.

"We came up on a Saturday and stayed over the weekend. We've been here ever since," Fannie said Monday while sitting in a lawn chair outside the couple's camper at Old Threshers.

When not at Old Threshers, the couple lives on a 42 acre farm near Clark, Mo.

While horse-pull competitions are their passion and what got them started at Old Threshers, it's the friends that keep them coming back.

The couple usually spends about nine days volunteering at the event, doing everything from scooping road apples to helping with threshing demonstrations.

"To make the story short, that is where this button comes in," Joe Miller said taking off his cap and pointing to pin that declares "Proud to be a volunteer."

"Whatever is needed we do it. Plus, it's our vacation," Fannie Miller added.

Born and raised Amish, Fannie and Joe Miller grew up working with draft horses.

The couple, who have four daughters and one son, married in 1979 and followed the Amish way of life until 1994.

They worked a 110-acre farm, milked 19 cows by hand and also raised hogs, Joe said.

"It was nothing to go to field with six Belgian (horses) abreast and a 10-foot disk," Joe said.

And Fannie was right there along side him working.

"I did everything with the horses he did. I always loved to drive horses," Fannie said. "We have always worked together all our married life."

The couple first started with competitive horse pulling while working on the farm.

"Years back, when I was still at home, we did all the farming with horses. We'd filled the silo, done the thrashing and my neighbors around helped. Once in a while it would get a little soft in the field, and we had a great big load on it (the wagon). We'd kind of try and see who could out pull that one," Joe said. "So finally I got a good pair. And they worked and other guys couldn't stand it."

Amish tend to live by a strict set of codes, which does not allow for competing in horse pulls at county fairs. But that didn't stop Joe from driving his horse in the occasional forbidden competition.

After the couple left the Amish community, Joe started pulling competitively more often and Fannie soon followed.

Now Fannie spends 70 to 80 hours a week working as an administrator of an assisted living home, while Joe takes care of the horses, farms and works as a farrier.

"There are not too many husbands, and I'll give Joe the honor, that would work both teams while I go to work every day and he takes care of the horses and gets them ready for me," Fannie said.

Despite their full workload, the couple also competes in more than 30 horse pulls across the country including Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Colorado.

At the Iowa State Fair this year, Fannie took third place in the heavy weight division and Joe took second place in the lightweight division. Joe's team weights 3,600 pounds, while Fannie's weights 3,650 pounds.

The couple often takes their own sled with them and hosts pulling events.

For a hard-working former Amish couple, driving horses is more therapy than work.

"After you come in from a hard days work, you take the reigns and you harness them up and you go out driving them, it's just like you went to a therapy group of some kind. It mellows you out, you know. It just frees you. It's just like a therapeutic group. Just you and your team," Fannie said.

Article courtesy of www.thehawkeye.com



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