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No horsing around: This Belgian’s big

Jon Pearson of Webster, who’s 5 feet, 10 inches tall, stands near his horse, Tex.


By Alex Hanson
Valley News of Lebanon
Published: Saturday, July 19, 2008
WEBSTER — In the horse world, the quest for superlatives is constant. As much as horses are romanticized, they are still a commodity. A better horse fetches a higher price, regardless of what it’s better at.

Jon Pearson thinks he’s got a horse that might be not merely better, but the best — at being tall.

Tex, a 6-year-old Belgian draft horse, has been measured twice recently. One measurement, taken by his veterinarian, came out at 19 hands 3 inches. The other, taken by his blacksmith, at 20 hands. The reigning world’s tallest horse is Radar, a Belgian kept in Texas, who measures 19 hands 3 1 2 inches.

A hand, the traditional measure for horseflesh, is 4 inches. That puts Tex’s height at the withers — that’s the bump a horse’s shoulder blades make between its neck and its back — at either 6 feet 7 inches, merely colossal, or 6 feet 8, world-record territory.

Pearson said he plans to have an impartial measurement taken — the folks at Guinness, keeper of the book of world records, require two — before he decides what to do. His vet is going to measure again, and some people from a school in Massachusetts with an equine science program are stopping in on Wednesday. If the measurements put Tex over the top, Pearson will forward them to Guinness. If not, he might wait until spring, when he expects Tex will be bigger.

“He’s still in the gangly colt stage, I guess you’d call it,” Pearson said. Chief, one of the other six Belgians Pearson keeps at his Webster home, was the same age when he grew an inch and a half last winter, he said.

When Pearson bought Tex in March at an Amish horse auction in Indiana, he was on vacation and hadn’t planned to bid. “The way the economy is and everything else, I had no intention of buying a horse,” he said.

But Pearson saw possibility in Tex’s size. A cousin once sold a huge pair of Holstein oxen to Anheuser-Busch. His brother has an immense pair of Chianina oxen. The appeal of a giant animal is not lost on him. He said he bought Tex as an investment, the sort of gentle giant who might find a home at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Ten., which describes itself as “Dolly Parton’s Great Smoky Mountain Family Amusement Park.”

“He’s got the temperament to do something like that,” Pearson said.

Standing next to Tex is a powerful experience. The average saddle horse stands no higher than 16 hands, or 5 feet 4 inches. At more than a foot taller, Tex seems less like a horse than a dinosaur. His head alone weighs more than a large man. The almost vertical line of his shoulder seems impossibly long. Horse people like to marvel that a horse has feet like dinner plates, but Tex is one of only a few horses about which that statement is true.

If he doesn’t turn out to be the world’s tallest horse, and if Pearson doesn’t get any worthy offers for him, Tex will learn to pull. Pearson goes to pulling competitions almost every summer weekend, including events in North Haverhill, Tunbrdge and Bradford, Vt. Pearson, 51, first drove a team when he was 6 and an older cousin took him into the woods logging for a day.

“I still blame him, I guess, for being crazy about horses,” he said. Pearson, a self-employed logger, got his first horses 18 years ago. “I didn’t even know how to put a harness on a horse,” he said.

Pearson’s seven Belgians — Tex, Chief, Tug, Mack, Tim, Bob and Ike — live in a board-and-batten barn with a small paddock. He trains them in a back field, hitching them to a homemade stoneboat. Most of his horses were bought at the same auction where he found Tex and were bred for farm work. Pearson said he feels like an underdog at competitions, pitting animals bred to plow against those bred to pull, but fares well because he bonds with his horses.

“If they don’t have trust in you, you’re not going to have much of a horse,” he said. Pearson has an easy way with his horses, trusting them to walk into the barn on their own to find their appointed spaces, but reprimanding them sharply for nipping, a particularly dangerous habit for a horse like Tex, who weighs more than 2,400 pounds and has jaws that would shame a bear trap.

It might be that Pearson’s horses will have to earn more than just a bit of prize money from an agricultural fair. Pearson hasn’t had much work from the sawmills to which he sells logs in the past eight or nine months, and just sold his skidder. His hobby isn’t cheap. Each of his seven horses eats a bale of hay and around 30 quarts of grain a day. “If the economy was a little better, I’d be feeding them more,” he said. He might put them to work in the woods, he said, if there are saw logs to cut.

If Tex is indeed the world’s tallest horse, buying and selling him might be a financial boost, and Pearson isn’t shy about saying so. He’s been talking up the horse’s size at the suggestion of his longtime girlfriend, Tara Gunnigle. On Wednesday evening, he encouraged her to hold Tex’s lead rope. “You started this program,” he said.

That “program” has brought a steady stream of visitors, from friends and family to news media, out to Webster, a small town just northwest of Concord. “He’s in the limelight,” Pearson said. Tex’s name was Rufus when Pearson bought him, but “that wasn’t going to cut it,” he said. Why Tex? “The tall Texan,” Pearson said.

Gunnigle, 54, thinks Tex might be related to Radar, the world record holder. The white blazes down their faces bear almost the exact shape, she noted.

The title of world’s tallest horse can be fleeting. In April, Tina, a giant 4-year-old Shire mare kept in Tennessee and the world record holder at 20 hands, died as she was being prepared for surgery to correct a leg deformity, according to a story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel. A quick scan of the Internet turns up a story about Noddy, a Shire in New Zealand measured at 20 hands, 1 inch. There’s no word on whether Noddy’s owner plans to contact Guinness.

For now, Pearson doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to vault Tex to worldwide fame and is enjoying just having Tex around. He has faith in the future.

“Whether he makes it or not, I’m not disappointed,” he said. “He’ll make it next year.”

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