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Horses large and small pull their weight, and then some

Call it a prime example of irony, but victory for the world's largest draft horses can come down to inches and the smallest of percentages.

In the percentage pull of the state's open pull championship Thursday at the Winter Show, Dennis Fick's team of Belgians bested Don Davis's team by less than one percentage point. Fick's win continued his hold on the state title, which he has won for three years in a row now.

Winning is a Fick family habit. In the pony pull, Dennis' father Harold scored a first place with Ted and Tony. If that wasn't sweet enough, his daughter Abbey collected a Best Teamster plaque for her work with Jack and Butch.

The rules are similar, even if the horses are of different sizes. Once they hook up, teamsters in the pony pull encourage their miniature horses to pull the skid 10 feet. In early stages of the open horse pull, the light skid turns the 20-foot pull into a blur. Times-Record photos by Carla Kelly

Abbey Fick is a veteran of Winter Show competition in the pony pull, according to Liz, her mother. "She started when she was 9," Liz says. "I was terrified."

Not to worry. Abbey's team when she was a beginner was lighter than the 518-pound duo she controlled during Thursday's competition.

"Pony pulls are a nice way for kids to start working horses," Liz explains. "It's good for them, and easier on their arms." It's also a less strenuous workout for older teamsters like Harold Fick.

Harold and Dennis Fick have been pulling their weight for 18 years. "They were competing before Dennis and I were married," Liz says.

She added that summers are the busiest times: getting up at the crack of dawn on weekends to drive to shows and fairs in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Pony and horse pulling is a hobby for the Ficks (Dennis runs Fick and Sons Trucking in Litchville), but some of the teamsters in the Open Pull competition use their horses in farm work and logging, with the occasional sleigh or hay ride thrown in.

With Howard Wolf of Ypsilanti, though, his matched Percherons are a hobby, one that has taken him all over the United States and Canada in competition. Wolf's Satan and Mark placed third in competition yesterday, behind second-place winner Tracy Hanson of Chatfield, Minn., and Bob Hedmark of Niagara, Wis., in first place.

Howard did win the Best Teamster Award. It's hard to ignore the beauty of his dapple gray Percherons and their combined weight of 4,025 pounds, and the seemingly effortless way he controlled them.

A grain and bean farmer, Howard used to show cattle, but began training pulling teams because he likes horses. He adds that maybe horse pulling had a medicinal effect on him, too.

"I had some health problems that all went away when I started working horses," he says. "Plus it gives me great satisfaction."

Whether their horses are big Belgians and Percherons, or pint-sized ponies, the training and conditioning goes on all year.

"It's diet and exercise," says Liz Fick, "just like people."

Heavyweight or lightweight, the pulling competition is the same. Pony teams must pull a weighted skid 10 feet per each round. They have three tries to make that 10 feet.

After each round, more weight is added. Salt bags from area Culligan Water Conditioning dealers comprised the weight in Thursday's pulls. Teamsters keep a careful eye on their straining horses, and quickly pull out of competition when their hard-working pairs reach their limit.

Twenty feet per pull is the requirement for the large horses. If a team can't make that 20-foot pull in a round, whatever inches it achieves are recorded. Bob Hedmark's combo of Rex and Mike scored a first place by pulling 11,000 pounds a distance of 85 inches. Tracy Hanson was right behind for second place with 64 inches.

Teams in the percentage pull follow a slightly different path. Those teams-by no means small- are lighter than the heavy weights. They are judged on what percentage of their combined team weight they can pull. Dennis Fick's team pulled 273.29 percent of their 3,360-pound weight.

Both the pony pulling and open pull are crowd favorites. The main arena was packed for both competitions, even though a $5 fee was charged for the events.

The crowd's enthusiasm for the sport was evident. People leaned forward in the bleachers as the horses strained, or were obediently silent at the request of the announcer, when the teamsters needed to communicate with their hard-working horses.

The animals seemed to relish the applause, too, leaving viewers with the sense that the satisfaction that teamsters feel in a successful pull is seconded by the big boys doing the heavy hauling.

Article courtesy of Valley City Times Record

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