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CLINTON COUNTY 4-H FAIR: Kirklin native shows horse pulling skills

Phil Friend
Sports Editor

Four years ago, George Biddle got into horse pulling because he thought it'd make for a fun family event.

Based on the friends and family lining each side of the backstretch at the Clinton County 4-H Fairgrounds on Monday, Biddle's assertion was more than correct.

Biddle, with assistance from his brother Travis, competes in competitive horse pulling all summer long. Monday's event was his third in four days, after events in Plainfield, Ill. and Rensselaer on Friday and Sunday.

"Everybody just kind of pulls together," Biddle said. "It's just good, clean fun."

Biddle, who owns four horses (two heavyweights and two lightweights), only brought the heavyweights Monday. His pair of horses bowed out after failing to make the required distance of 27-feet, while carrying 7,000 pounds.

At the beginning of a horse pulling event, each team gets three attempts to clear the required weight and three passes to get the horses hooked onto the load. Pulling starts at 5,000 and ends at 8,000 pounds.

After each of the horses complete their runs at a certain weight, a Caterpillar will bring out slabs of concrete and 10 or so workers will add the weight to the cart.

Since the weight is an estimate, no world records could be set at Monday's event. Events in Michigan usually have the proper equipment for such measurements.

Biddle said he trains his horses daily, with each one of them pulling weights for four miles. They usually get a break after 1/3 of a mile, but Biddle does it to build up their cardiovascular system.

Once a week, he'll put 3,000-4,000 pounds on the sled and take the horses a half-mile in short intervals. Biddle's heavyweight horses weigh around 2,200 pounds and the lightweights 1,600.

Most of the horses competing at horse pulling events are Belgian horses, which account for more than all other breeds combined. Henry Hawkins of Mulberry, who emceed the event, said that studies done in the 1920s and 30s showed that Belgian horses were the best ones to use for events like this.

"It takes, time work and money to front those horses," Hawkins said, who was unable to bring his own horses in for the competition. "The horses got to work together, otherwise they don't make a good team.

"It's all about conditioning, too."

To get to the actual pulling portion of the contest, it takes two or three handlers to hook the two horses up to the load. And as once as the horses are latched on, they pull right away, and its up to the driver to take care of business.

Frankfort residents Jerry and Mary Hall experienced their first-ever horse pulling event and Jerry Hall said he attended in hopes of taking some good photos.

"We like it," Mary Hall said. "It's fascinating seeing the horses brought up to the sled and pace the entire time until they get them hooked up and ready to go."

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