Horse pulling contests are the Mr. America contests of the horse world. A 2,000+ pound heavy weight body builder. To see them in person is to understand.
Horse pulling contests, however, have been around much longer than Mr. America. Dating back to the early 1800’s when horses first starting pulling farm equipment here in America. Men bragged on their teams being stronger than their neighbors teams, and thus the competitions began.
It is the Draft Horse breed that compete in these thrilling contests. The word draft in this sense means the load-pulling capacity of the animal. Thus Draft horses include all the heavy-build pulling horses, i.e. Shires, Percherons, Clydesdales, Suffolk Punches, and Belgians. Pulling contests showcase their mighty strength, teamwork, and amazing harmony between man and beast. They are the ‘gentle giants’ of the horse world, and amazing athletes.
Draft horses were not only used on farms, they were used in logging work, gathering ice from ponds, used in dairies and breweries, running hauls from here to there in the cities, and pulling steam-powered water pumps for fire houses.
This summer our local fairgrounds hosted a pulling contest during the annual Shenandoah Valley Steam Show. This is the show for those that admire or own old steam powered equipment. The one night though was the exciting horse pulling contest.
With camera in hand I got as close as possible without being a distraction for the teams or teamsters. The audience is reminded to be very quiet—no yelling, for as the announcer said, “Your ‘Go’ may be heard as a ‘Whoa’ by the horses over a ‘Whoa’ from the teamster trying to hold them while being hitched to the sled.”
Did these teams ever go! They were so excited, using an old horse term, they were “chomping on the bit” to get to work. The energy from the horses and teamsters was palatable! One could barely hear the teamster talking quietly to his team. When the team took off the earth very nearly shook!
There are divisions based on total weight of the teams. The lighter divisions pulled ‘lighter’ loads. While the big teams pulled huge amounts of weight! A team can pull far more weight than a single horse can. I do believe the winning heavy weight team pulled over 15,000 pounds! Real horsepower here!
This thrilling event is for horse folk like me. These horsemen and women are friendly. They welcome visitors right up to their trailers and horses. They are chatty and answer any question one may have. And they love talking horses. They are my favorite group of horse people.
Please enjoy a few of the photos I took of these magnificent animals displaying their glory and the teamsters that work with them.