Friday, August 4, 2000
Horse pull heralds memories of the old days
By Mark Boshnack
One could easily imagine that he had
stepped back in time, as the pounding hooves of the draft horses
battle the dirt track and the weights during Thursday's horse
pull at the Otsego County Fair.
There are no tractors involved, nothing
is mechanical in the battle that nearly 100 people watch for
hours. Team after team of draft horses struggles to pull the
most weight, as crews maneuver them through three competing
Robert Simpson, 59, of McDonough, has
two teams in the event. "The love of horses gets you into a
sport like this," he says. "It's an awfully expensive hobby."
A good pulling horse can cost between
$2,000 and $10,000, he says.
As in all pulls, when it is Simpson's
turn, he takes the reins of his horses as several other
competitors jump on to help control the team. "We all work
together," he explains.
The Simpson lightweight draft team
pulls a 3,000 in its first heat, as measured by a dynamometer.
That is an average pull, explains judge and fair President Lee
Waite of Edmeston. The score equals the equivalent of pulling
about 20 rolling tons of logs.
But horses are like people, he says,
"they have good days and bad days." And Waite says he has seen
the Simpson team pull better.
When his horses are not competing,
Simpson has them working on his farm raking and pulling lumber.
"You have to work them every day to keep them in shape for
competition," he says. "You've got to keep them conditioned and
their muscles hard."
Carroll Ostrander of Rockdale said he
doesn't run with his horses as much now that he is 71. His
grandson, Shane Hartwell, 24, brings the horses to the sled when
it is their turn to pull.
Hartwell explains that the pulls are
part of an area-wide competition through the New York State
Hospitality Draft Horse Association. He said he will be in three
within one week's time. Today he will compete in Honesdale, Pa.,
while next week he will go to New Jersey. Hartwell competed in
67 competitions last year but says he doesn't expect that he
will reach that level again.
"It's a hobby" he says, agreeing with
Simpson. "You don't do it for the money."
Hartwell would not say what his
winnings on the circuit were.
Hartwell's mother, Michele, watches the
action. She reflects on why people compete in the pull.
For her father's generation, she says,
it's nostalgia. "They used to use these horses on the farm," she
But for her son, she says, "he does it
for the competition."
But, she says, she is certain that for
both young and old, the biggest prize is the "bragging rights"
that a win allows.
The pulls can go on for six hours or
more, Hartwell says, because two classes of horses compete. The
lightweight class includes teams that weigh 3,300 pounds or
less. All other teams are listed as heavyweights.