Sunday, July 3, 2011

Twenty-seven feet six inches

That's the distance that a pair of draft horses must pull a loaded stone boat in competition to record a "full pull". While the specifications and rules of draft horse pulls can vary from region to region, in Wisconsin contests are usually divided into two divisions, one for teams weighing 3200 lbs. or less and another for teams of unlimited weight, which could be as much as 5000 lbs. a pair. The stone boat is initially loaded with weights that would add up to perhaps 4500 lbs., an amount that probably all the teams entered would be able to manage. Each team has three opportunities to make the pull and those that are successful move on to the next round, where more weight is added. Eventually, only one team is able to make a full pull and wins the event outright or, if no team makes a full pull at a given weight, the one that pulls the boat the farthest wins.

Horse pulls are calm affairs, except for the horses themselves when actually involved in a pull. There is no loud music or other noise. Spectators are cautioned to be quiet, as the horses take their cues from sounds and can be easily distracted. Beer and barbecued chicken are cheap. If the competitors can be said to wear uniforms, they would be T-shirts printed with farm equipment advertising, bib overalls and free caps, much like the audience.

A low key yet exciting afternoon at a draft horse pull in rural Wisconsin is a step back to another age when things happened more slowly and quietly.

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