For a large segment of the year, I live seven miles from nowhere, in a place where the word rural doesn’t even cut it. It’s so far back in the woods you need a map to find the map to the place.
But, every once and a while, one must venture out into the forest to see what civilization has to offer.
Though to be fair, in an area with more cows than people, you can’t exactly go looking for the metropolitan experience in say well… a city. The night life isn’t exactly thriving in unincorporated pastureland and national forests.
Around here, the pinnacle of entertainment are small town fairs, in which, at some point in the summer, every county, hamlet, town, and village with throw some type of pastoral festival. Generally, they will be staggered throughout the summer months, usually towards the end of July and running through August.
And it is here, that I had my first encounter with a unique sport that you won’t see on ESPN anytime soon.
I was introduced to horse pulling. Yes, you read that right.
I know what you’re thinking? Is it just a horse pulling things?
You watched this?
Alas dear reader, I must inform you that I watched it for two hours.
I sat in a grand stand under a beautiful summer sky, a vast deep blue that was welcomed after a day of rain. The sun getting low in the sky, as the main event was about to begin.
A massive sled is weighed down with cinder blocks, anywhere between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds depending on the size of the horses, and two men come forward with a team of horses. One man controls the horses, while the other, called a hitcher, drops a hook attached to the harness into a ring connected to the sled.
The horses are essentially trained to go when the hook drops. I thought it would be a slow, methodical endeavor, but it was nothing like that. The team launched forward like offensive lineman. They dug into the ground, snorting and sweating, and kept driving until they pulled the sled the full distance.
More and more weight is added to the sled until only one team can pull it. It can be as much as 6–7,000 pounds.
You get the sense that you’re not watching beasts of burden but professional athletes. Their nostrils flare, and their harnesses are soaked in sweat, and you can tell all they want to do is pull that sled as far as possible. Often, the driver, or teamster, must get the horses to stop to keep them from running into the trailers and the fields beyond.
The small crowd that gathers is jovial and well mannered, but quickly excited when the horses finally prevail.
It’s a community event too. The local 4H kids run the concession stand and they younger ones walk amongst the crowd delivering all manner of fair food.
Eventually, the horses retire to the trailers and the crowd disperses back to our small towns, and cabin getaways. The lights that in the fall will illuminate football games allow everyone to find their car, and we all begin the dark journey through backwoods highways having just watched a weird but magical sport.