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GRAHAMSVILLE, NY — These days, when people talk about horse power, they think about how many ponies are under the hood.
But for the folks who make up the New York State Horse Pulling Association (NYSHPA), it’s how much weight a couple of massive draft horses can pull down a straight-line course in the shortest time.
On Saturday, August 17, the 140th Annual Little World’s Fair, under the auspices of the Neversink Agricultural Society, presented a draft horse-pull contest in the main ring of the fairgrounds; it was appropriately adjacent to the horse barn, from which a cadre of young 4-H equestrians got a bird’s eye view of the competition.
The sport of horse pulling began back when farmers used their everyday work steeds to see which horses could pull the most weight—a challenge to see who had the best of the breed.
Since then, the sport has evolved into a highly organized passion. It’s an expensive passion, too, as some specially bred horses fetch within the upwards realm of $30,000, and are carefully tended with regular workouts and well-fed with the best grains and vitamins.
In the early days of horse pulls, the draft horses came to the competitions virtually straight off the farm. They weren’t yet drawing large crowds at local fairs, but they were hauling logs out of the woods along with other heavy-duty tasks around working farms.
As the sport progressed, horses were tasked with pulling weighted stone boats and other forms of weighted sleds. Until more recently, large trucks outfitted with graduated and ever-increasing amounts of weights evened the playing field with a touch of modern technology.
According to www.horsepullresults.com (a ready source of accessing current news and results of horse pulls around the country), “Our goal is to provide the horsepull fanatic a one stop location to find the largest selection of horsepulling listings and results on the Internet…we hope to promote the sport of horsepulling throughout the country and reach out to the horsepulling novice to generate a larger spectator and competitor base….”
At last count, horse-pull events were held in 31 of the nation’s 50 states, and horse-pulling clubs range from Canada, to the bluegrass regions of Kentucky, to New York State.
Larue Austin of Columbia Cross Roads, PA is president of NYSHPA, and was part of the three-man crew operating the weighted semi-truck that was employed as the device to test the horses’ mettle at pulling heavy loads.
“It’s to see who can pull the heaviest load the furthest,” he said in offering up a thumbnail portrait of the sport.
Larue, who turns 72 next month, said he started out in horse pulling at the age of 14 or 15, and has been at it ever since.
“The sport has evolved,” he said. “We’re starting out with loads now that used to win back then… We’ve got better horses, and it costs a lot more. Before, they were just farm horses, and we used them in the woods to slide logs around.”
Steve Brown of Hinsdale, NY was part of the crew operating the weight-laden truck. Speaking of weight, he said the competition started out at 2,800 pounds, and increased in 200-pound increments until “they quit pullin’.”
“It’s always been a good sport, but it’s gotten to the point where older people have gone away, and for the younger people, it’s tough to find ‘em.”
Jim Cady of Westfield, PA was the third member of the truck team, and has been around horse pulls for going on half a century.
“I’ve always had draft horses, and in the early ‘70s had a team,” he recalled. “Back in them days it was quite a lot simpler… a lot of farm teams like myself.”
“If you had a good team, you took ‘em to a local fair and showed them off… Nowadays it’s highly competitive and way more expensive… It’s a good sport,” said Cady.
For more information about horse pulling, contact Kelly Heath, NYSHPA secretary at 315/868-5771 or association treasurer Doug Smith at 607/849-3028, or visit the NYSHPA on Facebook.