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Wayne County Fair horse pull 'as good as it gets'

By BOBBY WARREN

Staff Writer

WOOSTER -- When the Buckeye Horse Pullers Association of Ohio's lightweight state championship began at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Wayne County fairgrounds, some people gazed upon strong draft horses, while others saw trained athletes.

Jerry Riggs' team of Mike and Davey, both Belgians, won the lightweight state championship when the pair dragged 9,750 pounds for 16 feet, 11 inches.

"It was a good pull," Riggs said after the competition. He worked his team about once a week to get ready.

This is the second year in a row Riggs, who is from Cameron, W.Va., won at the Wayne County Fair. However, last year the competition here was not for the state championship. It alternates every year with the Geauga County Fair.

Only two teams advanced to final pull. Joining Riggs' team was Billy Keegan's pair of Belgians, Max and Doc.

Keegan, who traveled from Mongomery, Mich., recorded 11 feet, 8 inches in the final pull. Each team has three tries to make a full pull, which is 27 feet, and Keegan decided against a second attempt for Max and Doc.

Riggs' team initially pulled 9 feet, 4 inches on the final round, but was able to best Keegan's mark on the second attempt.

Fred Cannon, who oversees the event at the Wayne County Fair, said teamsters are competitive, but they also are willing to help one another when needed.

Such was the case on the final pull. Keegan rushed over to help Riggs settle and rest his horses before he made his second -- and championship-winning -- pull.

Keegan had some familiarity with one of Riggs' Belgians. Cannon said when one of Riggs' horses became injured, he wanted to find another so he could pull at the state championship. So, a couple of weeks ago, he purchased a horse from Keegan.

Jeff Young, president of the association, served as the trainer and teamster for the Tate Farms' entry in the contest. Young is from Uhrichsville, but the team of Buster and King is from Hal Tate's Shreve farm. It was the only local team in the competition.

"It takes a lot of time to get ready," Young said. This was the team's 40th pull this season. Young and the team traveled to four states. They had some first-place finishes and a lot of seconds.

Young, along with Cannon, Barry Cavanna, Jim Lytle and teamster Terry Smith said the horse pull at the Wayne County Fair attracts the best competition. There were teams from Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Young said he spends about six hours a day working Buster and King, along with Jake and Barney (who were scratched from the competition because they did not make weight).

He puts them on a heavy sled, like the one used in competitions, to get them strong like an athlete, Young said. "They are just like an athlete," he added.

"Not every horse can do this," Young said. "We go through a lot of horses to find the ones that have the heart and the stamina to go out and pull like this. If they don't want to do it, they can't do it. They do it all on their own. So, it's hard to find a horse with the strength, the desire and heart to do this."

The good ones make it look effortless, he said. And, when they get into "their gear, that's what you want -- those that make it look natural and effortless and are so strong."

Cavanna enjoys the pull so much he has been coming back to help Cannon and his crew since moving to California from Wayne County eight years ago.

He does so because it is one of the best competitions he has ever been to, Cavanna said, adding he has seen a lot of them east of the Mississippi River.

Cavanna, too, likened the horses to conditioned athletes.

"The horses love doing it," Cavanna said. When they do make it look effortless, it is a tribute to the owner and trainer.

When it looks that effortless, it's like watching Joe Montana, Cavanna said. When Montana, a former NFL quarterback won Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers, played, he made it look effortless, but it took a lot of hours of coaching and practice, Cavanna added.

Lytle, who has the final say as to whether a pull went the full 27 feet, said he loves to watch the horses work together as a team.

"The team has to want to do the work," Lytle said. "If one wants to and the other doesn't, it won't work."

Smith, who drove Les Young's team of Bud and Tom from Warren, said he has been around horse pulls all of his life, it is in his blood. His father was a puller.

As for the competition at the Wayne County Fair, "this is as good as it gets," he said

Article Courtesy of The-Daily-Record.com



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