Schaaf family bond
|By: Amber Gieseke
Despite the dry
summer, Chuck Schaaf Jr. trains his horses every day with his father,
Chuck Schaaf Sr. They do get a little dirtier with the dry weather, but
they enjoy it nonetheless.
When anyone is
involved in something for 67 years, there is bound to be a strong attachment
and dedication. One Chetek man is passing on his love of horse pulling to
his family members and it has given them a hobby they can enjoy together.
Schaaf Sr., Chetek, not only loves horse pulling, but he has passed his love
of the sport to sons Charles (Chuckie) Schaaf Jr. and Fritz, daughter Cheri
and grandchildren Jordan (Chuckie) and Harrison (Fritz).
While his family always farmed with horses, Chuck's father didn't pull. When
Chuck was in his first pulling competition at age 14, his father helped him
Chuckie also started at age 14. He won his first competition at the county
fair in Rice Lake. The next year, Fritz used the same pair and won again.
Chuckie's been pulling since then and Fritz gets involved when he can, but
he lives in Minnesota.
One of Chuck's favorite parts of pulling, though he loves it all, is
"I love starting a young horse and seeing the progress it makes," he smiles.
"And if you're going to pull horses, they gotta be trained-we do four or
five miles a day pulling over a thousand pounds."
As far as problems in training, there hasn't really been anything Chuck
"You need to have an eye for a horse; you can't just go buy one," he
explains. "He'll only pull if he likes it."
Chuck and wife Janet, along with Chuckie, point out that if a horse is
treated well, as the Schaaf animals are, they are going to respect their
owners and do as they are asked.
A favorite team of horses, Don and Barney, who are now buried on the hill by
the training grounds, are good examples.
"When I got Don, he was half-way spoilt," chortled Chuck. "I got him home
and treated him like a horse should be, and his attitude and everything
changed completely. He wouldn't even pull for the previous owner."
Chuckie says his dad has had a way with animals since he was growing up.
Chuck had polio when he was a child, but Chuckie explained that a dog would
be harnessed to a wagon and pull Chuck to school, then at 3 p.m., the dog
would bring the harness to Chuck's father, and would sprint back to the
school to bring him home.
"There's an understanding there," says Chuckie. "Even now the horses seem to
understand he doesn't move as fast and isn't as strong, but he has the
ability to control them and make them listen without those qualities."
The understanding may be strengthened through the years. Although most
pullers use a horse for only a few years, Chuck will pull a horse for its
Some of his best teams, who earned him records, went to pulls with him for
Don and Barney, for instance. Don was pulled for 14 years and Barney was
pulled for 12.
"I don't know how he keeps winning with them," says Chuckie. "He just does.
"Don and Barney, though, they knew when it was crunch time," he continues.
"I could feel it in the reins that they knew it was show time and they did
it for him."
Chuckie remembers someone who handed Chuck a blank check. They wanted to buy
Don and Barney and would pay whatever Chuck wanted, but he couldn't part
It wasn't just a pair or two that gave Chuck the fame he now has (pullers in
Pennsylvania or Indiana or wherever know his name, claims Chuckie), his
winning streaks, knowledge and kindness help.
Doug Huset, of Chetek, and sons Gus and Brian calls him the guru and say he
would know how to fix anything and is more than willing to help people.
Jordan, 12, and Fritz's son Harrison, 14, look up to their grandfather and
would love to pull some day-Jordan thinks the sooner the better.
"I'm proud of my father for what he's done and now he's leading by example,"
says Chuckie. "Not just for his family, but for anyone who knows him."
Janet echos his sentiments.
"He's had an extraordinary life-just thinking of all that he's overcome
shows that," she says.
Looking at his accomplishments, it is easy to see why he was inducted into
the Wisconsin horse pull hall of fame in 1994.
In Ridgeland one year, shares Janet, he took three teams and competed in the
three classes. He took first place in each division, which she believes is
the only time it's been done.
His love of the sport has spread to his family, who all go to the pulls when
Harrison can't imagine not going to a pull. Janet says it allows the whole
family to get closer together.
Chuckie, who harnesses the horses for the training now that Chuck isn't
strong enough, says he likes seeing his dad have the fun and glory and likes
that he can still do what he loves to do.
"Besides," he says, "I get to be outside in the summer with animals I love
and spend hours each day with my dad. Not everyone can do that."
For the Schaafs, horse pulling is a tradition that brings them all closer
and gives them the chance to be together, whether they are pulling, keeping
score or watching. They are creating memories.
When Jordan was in first grade, he drew a picture of a horse pull, complete
with a harnessed team, audience and lights. At the bottom, he wrote, "I will
always love going to horse pulls with my grandpa and dad. Some things are
courtesy of: The Chetek Alert