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Rain dampens horse pulls


Star Beacon

JEFFERSON - - Torrential rains put a halt to the horse pull competition at the Ashtabula County Fair Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

The event began at 10 a.m. and was off to a good start until midway through a massive downpour caused officials to call the event.

Horse pulls are an age-old tradition of fairs. Years ago, farmers would bring their horse teams to fairs and see whose team could pull the most weight, while their wives entered pickles in the fair, said Becky Riggs, of the Buckeye Horse Pullers Association. The competition was held to see which farmer would obtain bragging rights.

Through the farm teams, some of the more competitive farmers started training their horses specifically for the pulling competition. As time went on, competitors became more "professionals" where their horses are bred, groomed and trained for pulling, Riggs said.

There are two classes in horse pulling events - - lightweight and heavyweight. A lightweight team of horses weighs anywhere from 3,320 pounds and under. A heavyweight team weighs more than 3,320 pounds.

"Most weigh a combined weight of 4,500 pounds to 5,000 pounds," Riggs said.

The heavyweight competition starts out with 6,000 pounds of weight and the team of two horses must pull it 27 feet in order to qualify for the next round. The team gets three chances on each weight to qualify, she said.

Most of the horses in the 16 teams entered at Thursday's event were Belgian horses with the exception of one Percheron, Riggs said. Belgian horses are typically used for pulling. On occasion Suffolk horses, which are a smaller draft horse breed, are used.

The horses have shoes with cleats so they can get a better grip.

After each team qualifies on one weight, an additional 1,500 pounds is added to the sled. There is no maximum amount of weight, it all depends on how much the horses can pull.

"We've pulled as little as 6,500 pounds and won the competition and pulled as much as 13,500 pounds and not won the competition," she said. "The weight depends on the track condition and the type of sled."

The horses are trained like athletes, with very repetitious exercise. Usually they are trained with a sled and a minimal amount of weight. They are trained every day to keep their muscles toned. For the most part, none of the horses are turned out to pasture during the pulling season, Riggs said.

The horses are also given a high protein diet.

"It's a very family oriented sport," Riggs said. "Most of the pullers' families travel with them. We tailgate and picnic and the teamsters help each other."

With the exception of one team of horses, whose owner eliminated them voluntarily, the remaining 15 teams were all still in the competition at the point in which it was called because of the weather. At that point, the weight was up to 9,000 pounds. The winning team is chosen by process of elimination. Basically, the team that can pull the most weight wins.

Article courtesy of the Star Beacon

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