Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Southern National Draft Horse Pull

One of the biggest horse events held in the Hunt Horse Complex at North Carolina’s State Fairgrounds is the annual Southern National Draft Horse Pull. The 2012 event once again filled the stands with spectators. Publisher of Carolina Hoofbeats, Rose Cushing and I shared a vendor booth. We were promoting the magazine and I was selling some books. Taking photos of horses and mules, meeting up with some old friends and meeting new folks, selling books and eating French fries – now it just doesn’t get more fun than that!

The night’s entertainment kicked off with a parade of horse and mule drawn vehicles and farm equipment. The Wells Fargo Stage Coach made a grand entry. The Double L Bar Shooters performed an exhibition of the hottest horse sport going these days, Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
Herman “Black Bart” Cox’s mule Penny from Thomasville North Carolina, won the Coon Jumping contest, which was held prior to the main event, the draft horse pull. Taking second place was Phil Stone of Sanford, NC with his mule Tarzan. Third place was won by Rocky, owned by James Lamm of Wake Forest, NC. Fourth place was Augustus McRee handled by Deborah Smith, Hurdle Mills, NC and fifth place was Bonnie handled by John Everhart, Thomasville, NC.
In the draft horse pull the winning team pulled 11,000 pounds. When I was writing The Book of Draft Horses I noted that in 2006 the record weight pulled was just over 5,000 pounds. So, 11,000 pounds seemed a huge improvement over the past six years.

Jason Rutledge, a workhorse expert to explains the 6,000-pound difference. “The two records or measures are on different devices. The lower numbers are on a dynamometer and the higher weights are on a sled. We don't have dynamometers in the south and I'm glad, as I don't like them, they favor faster horses and tend to reduce the experience to a measure made by a machine. I like the sled, it puts more skill into the contest as to where you get the sled and choice of directions on the final effort or attempt.”

The dynamometer was invented in the 1920s by a team of researchers at Iowa University who were studying horsepower. They demonstrated the machine in a contest at the 1923 Iowa State Fair. The dynamometer works like this: the horse is hitched to the machine. When the horse pulls against the collar preset weights are lifted and that releases an oil valve, oil flows through the machine, then when the team stops pulling the weights drop and close the valve.

The stone boat or sled is loaded with weights, the team is hitched to the boat and the horses are given either a time limit or distance in which to pull the load.

Rutledge added, “I think the sled also adds to the entertainment value of the experience, particularly when the weights are something people can relate to - like cinder blocks or bags of feed. At our little invitational events we always use feed and then divide it between all the participants as prizes. The fact is that all of them eat the same, the event is not about money for the participants and a plastic trophy or ribbon means as much to the pullers as anything.

Incidentally, the sled used at Southern National was made for using cinder blocks as weights and many of the pullers don't like the chain hook as it jars the horses much more than a solid hook, because it is so much easier to start the load with a lot of slack.”

Rob Hall and Calvin Davis produced the event this year. The Southern National Draft Horse pull comes at the end of the Southern Farm Show and previously has been produced by that trade show. When Rob and Calvin got word that for the first time in twenty-nine years the event would not be held they went to work to do it themselves. They felt it was important to keep the tradition alive. With only a few months to pull it off they did it and promise to do it again next year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Glad to Be Retired From Barn Chores

It’s cold today by North Carolina standards. When it gets below fifty degrees and the wind is blowing (today’s high is thirty-seven) I feel it in my old bones and I am not sorry to be “retired” from the horse business. And on those rare single digit days when I am in my nice warm house and do not have to go out to a barn and chip ice off the water trough, adjust the horse’s blankets and do all those other barn chores I smile and say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Back in those days my best friends were fleece jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and long johns. I made gallons of hot chocolate for my barn buddies and myself to warm up after chores. It seemed fun back when I was younger. Then I got old and it just plain hurt to be that cold.

But, still I miss being around horses and horse people. Most of all I miss teaching riding lessons, workshops and working with the 4-H horse program. Fortunately, I have lots of horsy friends and I do keep in touch. They don’t mind me getting a “horse fix” when I need it. I am appreciative of that. And I have found ways to satisfy my desire to teach through my writing. But, writing is somewhat one-way. I don’t always know if what I’ve written has been useful to the reader except when I get an occasional email or run into someone who thanks me  for something I wrote that struck a cord with them.

Fortunately I've found a way I can teach from home and at the same time interact with my readers. I am working as a Horse Management Expert for People can post their questions and for a small fee have an Expert answer them. In addition to Horse Management, has a wide variety of categories from legal to computer and health to home improvement, each with highly qualified (and those qualifications are verified by an independent company) Experts in their respective fields. My field is horses, of course.

Anyone, 18 and older, with a Horse Management question to ask can follow this link:

They then just follow the instructions and type in their question. Then one of the Horse Management Experts will answer you. (If you particularly want me to answer type my name, DonnaCSmith, in the subject line of your post.

I love that I can continue teaching – from the warmth of my office and home computer. So, while I am retired from the ice chipping and stall mucking in a below freezing barn I am still can have my connection with horse folk and those who need a little helping hand.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


I was expecting them.  Every night between seven-thirty and eight o’clock they came.  Usually someone just happens to notice them in the pasture after we’ve brought in the horses. Tonight I had the whole farm to myself.  I decided to sit down and wait.

The first one seemed to just materialize out of thin air.  It wasn’t there, and then it stepped from the cover of some trees into the clearing.  Just as magically, the second one appeared.

They went to the mineral lick.  The hole they’ve made is so deep I couldn’t see the head of the one who demanded first turn.  Something caught their attention on the other side of the pasture.  Heads raised, ears wide, they listened. And watched.  I assumed it was harmless; whatever had distracted them from the lick.  They moved down the hill, and out of sight.  When they returned, two more accompanied them.  Friends for sure.

While I watched the four comrades, a mother and baby tiptoed out of the woods.  The little one still had its spots, and wanted to play with a pronghorn – probably big brother.  Now, there were six.

I sat motionless, enthralled by the gift of watching this herd of deer at peace in my horse pasture.  Outside the fence, between woods and pasture is a patch of tall weeds.  I could see patches of red-gold, a flash of white.  Then two more deer ducked under the fence and joined the six, taking turns at the mineral lick.  One was another male, with double pronged antlers.  Older than the other one?  More movement in the weeds, another mother and fawn appeared.  This fawn is shy.  It didn’t want to come into the pasture.  It pranced in a circle, then seeing Mother had already made the decision to join the group, it cautiously came into the open, out of the cover of the lush growth of dog fennel and pokeweed.

The first fawn, still looking for a playmate made advances to the newcomer.  But, fawn number two didn’t want to play and after the first snip and kick move made a beeline for Mama.  Counting eight in the herd, I was surprised when a ninth appeared over the hill.  This loner seemed bigger than the rest, and had no antlers.  Do deer herds have a “boss” female like horses?  Or maybe she is a senior citizen, ostracized from the rest.  She stayed to herself, not really joining the others.

The deer spread out in the pasture, after they’d each had a turn at the lick, and grazed in small groups.  One doe suddenly noticed my presence.  She threw her head up, radar ears on alert, and stepped toward me.  I was sitting in a lawn chair just outside the fence—in the stable yard.  She took half steps, holding one leg up in mid aid with each step.  She stopped, trying to get focused she dropped her head, and then raised it.  I’ve learned in my equine studies that grazing “prey” animals have to lower and raise their heads to focus.  They have monocular vision, an eye on each side of the head.  Works differently than our eyes.  I tried not to even blink.  Then I blinked my eyes several times to see what she’d do.

Snort, and run!  That’s what.  But not very far, then she stopped and gazed in my direction again.  The others were split in their decisions – half ran all the way to the back of the pasture, at the bottom of the hill.  I could barely see the tips of their ears.  Three others stayed put, hardly paying the curious doe any attention.  Maybe they considered her the “drama queen” of the herd.  The mothers with children were among the runners.

The inquisitive doe wasn’t satisfied and started over to me again. Focus, focus, step, step.  She was only a few feet from me with a fence post blocking my vision.  I cocked my head to one side to see her.  She stopped.  I stopped.  She came a few steps closer.  The deer that had not run the first time were grazing, ignoring her antics.

In a sudden burst of energy she rolled back on her haunches and sped away, sounding the alarm with what I can only call a nasal whistle.  This time every member of the herd fled to the bottom of the hill, ears turned in my direction.

The sun was below the tree line and I decide to leave them in peace.  But, what a nice way to end the day?