Horse pulling a way of life for
By Shannon McKinney
Argus News Reporter
When many people his age are retired and relaxing, Leonard Tostenson of
Houston at 67 still gets up at four or five O’ clock in the morning to work
with his horses and farm the land.
“It’s what I’ve done all my life,” he explains over a hearty breakfast of
fried eggs, toast and orange juice that his wife, Kitty, has prepared. “I
don’t think I should change all that.”
At 7:30 in the morning, Tostenson has a few minutes to talk about horse
pulling before going to work.
His early morning chores entails a few hours of having his horses pull a
bobsled stacked with 2,500 pounds for two miles. This keeps his horses
conditioned and ready to pull in the 20 to 25 horse pulls that Tostenson
competes in each year.
The hotter the day is, the earlier he gets up to train with the horses.
This morning in the valley on Traff Drive outside of Houston, it is still cool
as the sun hasn’t yet penetrated the misty ridge.
Tostenson was born and raised in Canton where his grandfather, John
Tostenson, homesteaded for many years. Leonard worked with horses while
growing up and used them for logging and doing farm work. Even now he uses his
horses for farm labor because he enjoys driving them and working with them.
He explains, “How many people know the noise of dirt turning over on a
plow? You don’t hear that with the tractor. You get all that roar.”
“He’s half horse,” jokes Kitty.
Tostenson has participated in horse pulls for almost 50 years. He began in
the 1950s and won his first pull in 1968 with a spotted horse named Charlie
and a Palomino mare named Queen. They pulled 2,700 pounds on the dynamometer
27 1/2 feet in Dover.
A picture of Charlie hangs from the kitchen wall and is special to
Tostenson because not only was he the first in a new breed, but he pulled for
Tostenson for 20 years and set a state pulling record in Wisconsin that still
stands today. Charlie and a another spotted horse named “Prince” pulled 3100
pounds on the dynamometer in 1976 beating the old state record by 25 pounds.
Tostenson creates own spotted breed
Charlie was bred from a Percheron mare and a Moroccan stallion. Over the
years, Tostenson created his own breed. “Now we have an American breed. It’s
an association. It’s called the North American Spotted Draft Horse
A love for the spots are the main reason Tostenson started the breed. “In
the pulling world,” he explained, “90 percent of horses are Belgian, a few are
Percheron while even fewer are spotted.”
The spotted breed has a good disposition he said, “They’re willing to work
and willing to pull.”
Aside from working the farm, Tostenson currently has about 50 horses he
raises that include the Spotted, Belgian and Percheron breeds.
Tostenson prefers dynamometer
Some may not know what a dynamometer is. Many horse pulls today use the
stone sled, which is a different type of pulling than the dynamometer. More
weight can be pulled on a stone sled because it is pulled across the ground,
while a dynamometer, explains Tostenson, is like pulling a pail of water up
from a well.
Tostenson feels the dynamometer is more fair because it moves on wheels,
while the stone sled doesn’t. “If it goes in a hole, you can pull it out, but
you can’t pull a sled out of holes,” he explained.
Tostenson’s horses have been the recipients of many awards over the years.
Gold covers one of the walls in Tostenson’s home where over 100 trophies are
In the last few years, Tostenson said it seems he’s won more third place
awards than first, but that doesn’t bother him. “If you’re horses work hard,
you should be satisfied. You don’t have to have a first,” he said.
A big part of the fun of horse pulling, says Tostenson, is the people you
meet along the way. “It’s a sport like a big family. One puller will help the
other if he needs help at the contest,” he explained.
Tostenson says his most memorable horse pull was winning the dynamometer at
the Minnesota State Fair in the late 1980s. His two Belgian horses named “Jim”
and “Pat” pulled 3,450 pounds. A few years later the dynamometer was
Now, the Houston Hoedown is regarded as the state sanctioned horse pull and
is the biggest in the state. Cash prizes are given for first through last
place in all three categories. First place is $140, second is $120, third is
$80, fourth is $60, fifth is $50 and on down until $10 for last place. The
pull is sponsored by the Houston Hoedown, but is called the state pull. Kitty
explained, “It’s mainly a word. It makes it sound a little more important.”
If records could be held for the stone sled pull, the state pull would be
where they were made. Unfortunately, said Tostenson, records aren’t kept for
the stone sled pull, because the varying ground conditions aren’t conducive to
fair record keeping. Records could be kept, however, if the dynamometer were
For as long as Tostenson can remember, The Houston Hoedown has been
synonymous with the horse pull. “Hoedown has been horse-pulling since Hoedown
began,” he said.
Tostenson remembers when they used to horse pull in the cinders down along
the railroad in Houston.
Tostenson plans to return to Hoedown again this year with three teams of
horses in the heavyweight, the 3200 pound and the 3000 pound weight classes.
He said his goal it to win and then added with a laugh, “But I’ll take what
I get. There’s a place for everybody.”
Other locals to compete
Other local men to compete in the horse pull this year include Ray Marks,
Jim Schleich, who recently won the Hokah Horse Pull, Harold Van Gundy, Kenny
Boldt and Billy Hansen.
Article comes courtesy of Caledonia Argus of