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Families unite for horse and pony pull

Todd Cole, of Mount Gilead, runs behind Jeff Young, of Uhrichsville, as he controls horses. The horse and pony pull was Saturday at the grandstand. / Trevor Jones/Times Recorder

ZANESVILLE -- Horse pulls have been part of his family for a few generations, but Todd Cole's interest wasn't piqued until recently.

"I wasn't into it when I was younger, but I just got into it," he said. "My grandpa, dad and uncle pulled. I started with my grandpa, then when he passed away, my uncle and I took it over. I started hooking for my uncle and now I pull."

Cole traveled from Mount Gilead to meet his uncle, Mike Cole, of Fredericktown, for Saturday's horse and pony pull at the Muskingum County Fair. Some competitors are elders who have stayed involved, and other pullers such as the Coles are involved as a time-honored, multi-generational tradition.

"I've been driving horses for two years, and I wouldn't miss this fair," Todd said. "We do about 20 fairs a year."

Mike helps Todd with the draft horses -- 13-year-old Doc, who has pulled for nine years, and 9-year-old John, who they've only had for four days. But Todd is responsible for leading them out onto the track and pulling them, a task he eagerly accepts.

"This isn't something you do if you didn't grow up with it," he said. "It takes practice, and I'd like to pass it along to my family someday."

Both said a lot of work and planning goes into preparing for the pulling competitions they participate in throughout the state.

"I log with them all winter," Mike said.

"And we try to have them lug heavy loads two to three times a week with a day off," Todd added. "We use an exercise sled for three to four hours a day to build their legs. You have to look for a horse that's the right size, a big horse that can handle heavy weights with speed."

As Saturday's competition began, a pulling sled was loaded with 4,000 pounds of concrete blocks, then the weight was increased.

Horses Doc and John were eager to take off as soon as the harnesses and bars were hooked onto the pulling sled. Kicking up their hooves and moving with as much speed as they could muster, the team was successful in pulling the heavy load. It was easy for spectators such as Millie Stubbs, of Coshocton, to see their flexing muscles and strength.

"You don't realize how strong they are until you see them pulling," she said, seated just a few feet from the track. "I enjoy watching it. I've been to other pulls, but this is the first year I've been to this one."

Jeff Young, of Uhrichsville, is no stranger to horse pulling. He's been involved with the sport for 35 years, traveling to several states to compete.

"I did 53 pulls last year in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, covering 15,000 to 20,000 miles," he said. "I might be the only one in this area that travels like that."

Young, who competed with 9-year-old horses, Bob and Buster, said he first was introduced to pulling by his older brother. He started with ponies then moved on to larger horses in the late 1970s.

"It gets in you to do it," he said. "It takes a lot of work, spending six to eight hours a day working them then bathing and taking care of them. Most do this as a hobby, but I do this for a living. It's from April to October."

While Young is his family's sole competitor, he said he would like to see the younger generations getting more involved with horse pulling.

"You've got to love horses," he said. "And you meet a lot of great people."

"You get to see old friends who have become part of the family," Mike Cole said. "There's a lot of competition, but we help each other out too. It's kind of died off a bit, but I hope it keeps going."

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