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Friday, August 4, 2000

Horse pull heralds memories of the old days

By Mark Boshnack
Staff Writer


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 heats.

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 explains.

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.

Article courtesy of The Daily Star Online

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