"A Good One": Elbert County Fair hosts crowd-pleasing Horse Pull
If you are into horsepower ” pure, unadulterated horsepower ” then a horse pull is right up your alley. The events are popular at county fairs throughout the nation, and Elbert County was no exception, serving up stiff competition to please both spectators and competitors on a cool, overcast Saturday evening in eastern Colorado.
“I enjoy the horses, and I got addicted to it,” said Pat Kelly, a personable contestant from the local town of Elizabeth, Colo., when asked why he takes part in pulling events. “I’ve been doing it for 20-some years. I like the people, the horses, and the competition.”
The competition consists of a pair of draft horses hooking up to a “sled” filled with weight (Elbert County used 70-pound bags of sand and started with 2,100 pounds) and pulling the weight over a dirt track for 20 feet to make a successful run. When every team is finished taking a turn, those who succeed get a chance to pull again after more weight is added, until one team has out-pulled all the others.
“They’re so athletic,” declared Diane Bell of Elizabeth, an interested fan of the action.”The horses are truly athletic.”
“These pulling horses, they put in so much effort and have so much try,” agreed her husband, Rich Bell, while relating what he likes about attending pulling events. The Bells own reining horses, but are eager fans of this draft horse competition. “Part of why I like watching this event is because the horses are so big and beautiful,” said Rich.
The rest of the crowd thought so as well, filling the stands on one side of a long dirt track in order to catch all the action. Their enthusiasm was evident as the announcer had to intervene several times, asking for quiet during pulls so horses could hear the shouted commands from each man driving a team. The spectators’ energy matched the wind of the August evening, blowing through the competition area before receding to gather strength for another blast. What they seemed to cheer most was a team that put everything into a performance ” a team acting as if pulling was as important as air and water.
“They’re like professional football players,” said Scott Beaman, a successful competitor from LaSalle, Colo., on the topic of good pulling horses. “They’re not farm animals. They are bred to do this. I think the best ones come out of Amish country.”
While the best draft horses for pulling competitions may come from Amish country, it sounded like the breed most suited for the task is the Belgian.
“They are stouter for the most part,” shared Kelly about what makes Belgians a natural fit for the contests. “They call them ‘gentle giants,’ and they really are.”
Though all nine teams of horses at the Elbert County pull were Belgians, there were notable differences among them. Size and weight.
Horse pulls have two classes of competition. There is the lightweight class for a pair of horses weighing in at about 3,400 pounds or less. Then there is the heavyweight division reserved for a team tipping the scales at anything over the top weight limit of the lightweights. The winning pair at the Elbert County event, brought by Beaman, trotted in at 4,800 pounds, the highest total of the five heavyweight entrants.
“I have a really good pair,” said a soft-spoken Beaman about his first-place duo, Buck and Jim, who pulled a sled bearing a whopping 12,500 pounds of sand to come out on top. The horses are undefeated in 2006, winning all seven contests entered thus far, but even Beaman did a double take when informed of the weight it took to win at the Elbert County Fair. “12,500 pounds?” he asked with a hint of surprise. “That’s a really good weight. I think we won in Utah with just over 10,000 pounds.”
Since Beaman’s teams finished first in both the lightweight and heavyweight classes, it was natural to ask his secrets for getting the most out of his horses.
“You’ve got to have good horses to start with. Then it’s the little things,” he offered, before smiling and courteously declining to get into the nitty-gritty details of what makes him successful. “It’s a lot of little things.”
“If you find a good horse that likes (pulling), you’ve got it made,” said Dick Edder, a contestant from Falcon, Colo. Edder, a retired Marine, brought a huge, but relatively new team of Belgians, named “Rock” and “Roll,” to the contest, hoping to gain positive experience and maybe even a win for the pair of gentle draft horses.
Although his team ended up in fifth place, Edder was glad he made the trip. “It’s about the competition, good horsemanship, and good horses,” he summed up of why he participates in the events.
The Elbert County crowd couldn’t have said it better after a Saturday night of horse powered action. While the sun faded into night, enthusiasm remained as horses and equipment were cared for and loaded up for trips home. Contestants, friends, and family members gathered behind-the-scenes to talk with each other and celebrate another successful competition, revealing in their friendly banter the camaraderie found within the horse pulling circles.
“It’s a lot of work. You don’t do this unless you like it,” said a smiling Kelly between trips of carrying equipment to his truck. “I thought it was a good competition. It’s always better when I win,” he finished with a warm laugh. “But I thought it was a good one.”
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