By NICK SABO
WOOSTER-- Debbie Cole's Belgians Pete and Andrew make their living
pulling logs, and when they step up to the sled during the Wayne County
Fair's Horse Pull, there's a few subtle differences between her team and the
others because of it.
For one thing, the other draft horse teams-mostly trained for pulls
only-go at the click of the hitch attaching them to the sled.
Cole's horses go at a kissing sound from Debbie or her husband, Bill.
"When you're in the woods, you don't want them going at the first sound
they hear," Debbie said. "You expect them to hold until your command."
In fact Debbie wants the horses to think they are working. Her horses are
not solely for competition, and the pull is important as exercise, keeping
them fit for work as timber haulers. Pete and Andrew are a logging team,
pulling harvested timber on carts or with the bare bark dragging on the
ground. Draft horses can pull logs weighing up to 11,500 pounds, and do so
with less environmental impact.
Keeping the horses under control as they navigate natural terrain is a
necessary skill. Proof that Pete and Andrew have mastered that control is
displayed each time Debbie walks the team out for competition: Her
3-year-old son, Sam, rides out on one of the horses bareback.
The control Cole has over her team is unusual, according to pull
supervisor Fred Cannon.
"When you work in the woods with horses, you have to trust your team,"
Cannon said. "You have to be very aware, or you'll get in trouble. This
team, you know you can trust."
The pull begins at 5,000 pounds on the sled, increasing the weight in
increments up to 11,500 pounds. On average, a team weighs about 4,800
pounds. Control is again important; the team must set off at the same time
for a successful pull. If the team is jumpy, hitching up to the sled can be
dangerous, with the horses bolting before they are attached.
A full pull is 27 feet, monitored by a chain behind the sled. A 5,000
pound pull is no problem for most teams, but as the weight increases to
10,000 pounds, a few steps and the horses know whether they will make a full
Cole likes to think of her horses as competitive with professional teams.
Pete and Andrew go into competition shoed for the farm, considered a
disadvantage behind teams with special pulling shoes. She doesn't seem to
concerned about winning the pull; it's more about working her horses and
seeing what they can do. Pete and Andrew are a team for the first time this
year, Andrew having reached five years of age. Before that age, a draft
horses' bones are not strong enough for heavy pulling.
"I guess I consider the other teams more professional," Cole said. "Farm
teams compete, but the professional teams are hard to beat for pulling."
Pulls are a summer thing for Pete and Andrew, Cole said. They log in the
winter professionally for the family business, DD & B Timber and Trucking
out of Mount Vernon. Still, the horses are kept to a regular schedule of
The conditioning, paired with the discipline from hard work, shows during
the morning pull. On reins held by Debbie, they come out docile with young
Sam riding along. On the track, the horses dig at the sound of a kiss,
tearing an 8,000 pound sled along with a fury that is, literally, raw