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Horses dragging their weight

By LORI LAW Correspondent August 17, 2008

ZANESVILLE - They stand six feet or better at the shoulder, weigh over 1,500 pounds and can pull nearly three times their own weight. They have no-nonsense names like Pete and Bob and Buster and Ike and they were born to do what they came to the Muskingum County Fairgrounds to do Saturday morning. They came from as far away as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. These were the gentle giants of equine athletes, the Belgians and Percherons harnessed together to compete in the horse pull. With spectators in the grandstands and lined along the track, the horse pulling got underway at 9 a.m. with teamsters guiding the pulling teams to pull a weighted sled to a length of 27 feet. As the pull progressed, teams were eliminated as the load was gradually increased.

Fair Board Secretary, Doug Guinsler brought the winning trophies to the stand, "It's a test of strength for the horse and how far they can pull that sled. They are very competitive. We've got a nice crowd in the grandstand and along the track, which proves that kind of an old fashioned sport is still popular. We've got a good crowd, especially for 9 in the morning on a Saturday. They sure are beautiful animals. They helped build the way for America," Guinsler said.

Retired pulling teamster, Ellis Derry watched the pull close by on the track, "I started pulling in 1927 with my dad. We used to bring them in the day before pulling the wagon. I was seven years old. I helped him all the time after that. He passed away in 1961 and I started pulling on my own in '63. I retired in '99. I miss the horses. You've got to take awful good care of your horse. You have to feed them well and you've got to train them. They should be trained for two or three months in the spring. Some of them are with loggers. I did a lot of that when I was young."

Mike Cole of Mount Vernon said that his team is usually helping with logging, "They're not like some of the teams here. They are workers, too. We just come to these to have a little fun and play with them." The horses Cole had brought to "play" were Bill and Doc, while Pete and Andy were brought by his father, Bill, all in the heavyweight division coming in at over 3,321 pounds Lightweight teams are 3,320 pounds and under.

"It's a family affair," Ed Arnold of Uhrichsville said getting Ike and Buster set for their lightweight division pull, "We've probably pulled 15 times this year." With a brother, a son, a nephew and granddaughter along, "We've been doing really well. We just work them and keep them in shape and they give us their all. Last Saturday night, they pulled 9,155 pounds. It's what they were born to do. My dad pulled and now we do. We just picked it up and went with it." Arnold said that in horse pulling, he feels they are preserving a piece of American history. They love it. The horses can't wait."

With a group of long time horse pullers looking on and trading stories taller than the 18 hand tall pulling horse teams, Raymond Best said of a team restarting after a false start, "They get that way. They get nerved up and they have to get their heads into it. They get horse smart when they get in front of the sled. They drive in there calm, but then they get excited and nervous in front of the sled. Some of these teams train as early as 4:00 am and just start at driving them with a load and building muscle. They are athletes. It takes constant training." As the team settled into pulling their load he said, "Now that was a nice pull! That's what I came to watch."

The driver yells pull and the team pulls more than 3 tons 27 feet at Saturday's Muskingum County Fair Horse Pull.
The driver yells pull and the team pulls more than 3 tons 27 feet at Saturday's Muskingum County Fair Horse Pull. (LORI LAW/For the Times Recorder)

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