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.

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