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Top Stories -- July 31, 2003



'Gentle giant' draft horses make 1st mark at county fair



SUMMIT STATION - James K. Cady is used to featuring draft horses, just not this far south.

Cady, a member of the New York State Horse Pullers Association, has attended draft horse pulls in states throughout the Northeast and also in western Pennsylvania.

The event is always popular, he said, but since most draft horse owners live at least three hours of driving distance from the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds, it was one the Schuylkill County Fair has never seen before.

"We've been at shows all over New York and in the Northeast and at pretty near every county fair," Cady said this week from the press box overlooking the Schuylkill County Fair horse show ring.

"But this is the first time we've had them here," he added.

The 20th annual Schuylkill County Fair included its first-ever draft horse competition and drew a crowd of equestrian enthusiasts and curious fairgoers for opening day Monday.

It was the first event of its kind in the county and one fair organizers hope will continue at the county fair for years to come.

The event drew 21 entries in two weight classes and scores of attendees, some interested in raising or purchasing the Clydesdale and Belgian horses and others who already own them. Many simply marveled at their size and beauty.

"It's just like a tractor pull or a car race," said Cady's wife, Cheryl, who is the event's record keeper.

"A lot of people come just to see the horses perform," she said.

The horses can weigh more than a ton, up to 500 pounds more than the average horse. They feature soft, short-hair coats and a disarming, gentle look that belies their striking mass.

Each team of horses - there are two per team - had three attempts to pull increasing weights of cement blocks 27.5 feet in each of eight heats, starting at 4,000 pounds and going up to as much as 9,000 pounds.

Premiums were awarded to the horses that could pull the most weight the farthest distance before stopping.

Fair organizers noticed the popularity of draft horse pulls at other county fairs and the state Farm Show in Harrisburg, where the event regularly draws hundreds of interested viewers, usually filling available seats to capacity.

Craig R. Morgan, chairman of the Schuylkill County Fair Association, said bringing the draft horse pull to Schuylkill County has been a goal for several years, but he faced difficulties because for most draft horse owners, the driving time to the county fairgrounds is at least three hours.

This year, however, by offering $5000 in premiums, the county fair was able to contract with the New York State Horse Pullers Association to bring the so-called "gentle giants" to Schuylkill.

"It's a great attraction as proved by attendance at other shows," Morgan said.

Mary A. Dalton, Pottsville, made her way to the horse show ring after co-chairing the Schuylkill County Fair Queen Contest to take a look at the "excitement."

"I just can't believe how much weight they can pull," she said of the horses. It's something different and something the people of Schuylkill County don't usually get to see."

While the event was aimed at showcasing the draft horses and developing a new genre of fair entertainment, it also sought to honor the role of the draft horse in Pennsylvania farming history.

"Draft horses were an important part of our agricultural heritage," fair livestock Chairman Robert Evanchalk said.

"And to have these massive specimens of horsepower at the Schuylkill County Fair is really special," he added.

Draft horses were a vital part of agricultural life at myriad farms across the commonwealth, Morgan said.

Story courtesy of and the Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald

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