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Horsepull popular part of Tri-County Festival each May

By Lana Robertson

A sport with roots deep in American tradition - horse pulling - has become a popular event at the Tri County Festival held in Jasonville each May.

Diane Harrison, along with the Jasonville Park Board and Jay Criss, coordinates the pull. She said last year's competition attracted 13 teams - including horses and their handlers from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky.

"It's been a successful thing for the festival," she said. "The spectators and the pullers enjoy it."

Harrison invites everyone to come out and enjoy the Tri County Festival then sit down and enjoy the pull, which starts at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 29, at Hannah Field on Hwy. 48.

The Lewis Township Fire Dept. will be serving food near the pulling strip, Harrison noted.

"Everybody should bring a lawn chair," she advised, since there are no bleachers.

Spectators attending a horse pull are watching a bit of American history than began on farms but has evolved into a nation-wide sport.

It about as basic a show of strength and power as it gets.

Horsepulling goes back to the early 1900s when massive draft horses - usually Belgians or Percherons - were used to pull plows and do other heavy work. The horses served as today's semi trucks and tractors do, to transport heavy loads and work the fields.

One day, a farmer must have challenged his neighbor to see whose team could pull the most weight. It grew from there.

The sport has come a long way since those days. Although the Amish use draft horses to do their field work, those horses who labor on the farm for many hours a day usually don't end up in the pulling arena on the week-end. Pulling horses, especially those whose owners take them on the "pulling circuit" that encompasses Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and other states, are specially trained to be exceptionally strong, quick and determined to pull a load. A farm horse only has to be slow and dependable.

The Jasonville pull is a "sled pull" that involves teams pulling loads of dead weight, cement blocks, on a sled. Some pulls, mostly in Illinois, use a dynomometer instead.

Each individual pull lasts approximately 8 to 10 seconds. Those few seconds of intense pulling is the only actual work the horses do. In each round, the teams successfully pulling the weight the set distance, 27-1/2 feet, goes on to the next round, and additional weight is added to the load.

At a typical pull, the horses only work for a total of a few minutes. The balance of time is spent resting, walking to and from the load and waiting for the other teams to pull.

Each team has three opportunities to pull a particular load. Early in the contest, almost every team will complete the required 27-1/2 feet on the first hitch. As more weight is added, teams are eliminated until only the fittest are left in the competition.

The team that can pull the heaviest load the farthest is the winner. Sometimes horse pulls are won by only a few inches.

Most states have horse pulling associations that invoke a set of rules - including disqualification for hitting the animals in any way, even tapping them with the lines; for having animals that are very difficult to control or hook to the sled; and for the driver or his helpers to step in front of the animals as they are pulling. There are always judges designated to oversee each pull and ensure the rules are followed.

The sport of horsepulling is exactly that, a sport involving a team of equine athletes. The work that goes into them to get ready for competition is endless.

The best horses in competition are usually worked at home for several hours every day, often six days a week, to keep their muscles and tendons in good shape to pull the heavy loads. Most of the training work is slow, involving pulling a fairly light load on a sled, which results in muscular and cardiovascular fitness. Most trainers don't pull their animals on extremely heavy loads, during the training process, very often.

The animals are no different than a weight lifter or football player getting ready for their given sport. It is not harmful for horses to pull heavy loads for short distances if they are conditioned right.

Belgians are the breed used most often in horsepulling. History shows that Belgians are direct lineal descendants of the "Great Horse" of medieval times. The Belgian, as the name implies, is native to the country of Belgium. That little country is blessed with fertile soil and abundant rainfall, providing the thrifty farmers of Belgium with the excellent pastures and the hay and grain necessary to develop a heavy, powerful breed of horse.

Belgium lies in the very center of that area of Western Europe that gave rise to the large black horses known as Flemish horses and referred to as the "Great Horses" by medieval writers. They are the horses that carried armored knights into battle. Such horses were known to exist in that part of Europe in the time of Caesar. They provided the genetic material from which nearly all the modern draft breeds are fashioned.

Article courtesy of The Linton Daily Citizen

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