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July 30, 1998

Gentle Giants pull local family to fair win

By Cathy Willoughby
Staff Writer

They are gentle giants, but these draft horses were all business Wednesday night. They strained against their harnesses, pulling a sled loaded with cement blocks along the track in front of the grandstand.

This is the world of horse pulling, and the Seneca County Fair has hosted the contests for 75 years. And a family that has participated in the largest share of those contests, for more than 60 years, is the Shaver family of rural Tiffin.

Mary Catherine Shaver recalled her late husband Harold's love of the sport that developed from his work on the farm north of Tiffin. ''That was his recreation. He just loved horses, we had to work with them on the farm, and you learn to love them,'' she said.

Her husband at one time had 46 horses when he was farming with them. Most of the horses were Belgiums, occasionally a Percheron. These large beasts usually weighed 2,500 to 2,600 pounds.

And although they didn't win them all, she said in the years they participated they won enough to have fun and make a lot of friends. ''You would lose friends if you won a lot,'' she said with a chuckle.

Some of the horses were more memorable than others. She said most her husband's horses were heavyweights. There are two divi sions in the sport: lightweights must weigh in as a pair as less than 3,220 pounds. Heavyweights weigh as a team anywhere over that.

''Most of the pullers were geldings, but we won a few trophies with a mare, Audrey,'' she said.

Harold died three years ago, but long before that, both his son,Tom, and grandson, Matthew, were helping him hitch the horses to the sleds and calling to the teams to pull some more.

''I just do it for the fun of it. I started when I was about 11 or 12 with my father,'' Tom said, standing outside the horse trailer that held his team of Duke and Red. They are two of the four horses he enters in about 20 competitions in Ohio, Michigan and New York ev- ery summer.

Every hitching team has differ- ent methods of calling, or urging the horses on. Matthew explained their teams best as ''they are just like a woman, you have to kiss to them.''

Duke and Red weigh 2,350 pounds apiece, and consume 10 gallons of grain and 10 bales of hay apiece, daily. They are outfitted with large padded collars, then harnesses, and bridles with blinders and straps to position their heads and they are ready for compettion. It takes three handlers to position the team of horses and hook them to the sled containing the cement blocks.

Before the heavyweight class began, officials recognized the par- ticipation of the Shaver family in the history of horse pulling in Seneca County, by reading from an anecdote written by Harold Shaver upon viewing the first pull in 1923. It recalled not only horses, but mules and even a team of oxen coming from area fields to compete. It paid tribute to the beasts of burden that cleared the woods and fields for the early settlers of Seneca County.

Article courtesy of The Advertiser- Tribune News

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