Heavy horses (also known as draft horses) have traditionally been used to carry heavy loads. In fact, if you visit Draft Horse Town at this year’s Stampede, you’ll learn all about the various roles that heavy horses have played in helping settle the west and beyond.
Many farm-related tasks have, over time, inspired and created competitions as a way for the working farm hands to demonstrate their skills to others and as a way to practise and sharpen those skills. For example, tie-down roping derived from actual duties which required catching and restraining calves for branding or medical treatment. Competitions such as the World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition were created to provide blacksmiths a venue to demonstrate their abilities as well as to improve upon them.
In the sport of horsepulling, it is the horses that are the athletes, and like many athletes, they have to go through a regime to ensure that they are in top physical condition to compete.
They must go through many exercises to keep their muscles in shape, and have a strict diet that is optimized for the work that they must do. Oats are given for energy, along with vitamins and minerals for stamina. Hay with alfalfa for protein is also given.
The concept of the Heavy Horse Pull is simple: pull more weight than the other competitors the furthest. The team that can do both objectives successfully wins. All of the teams competing at this year’s Stampede are fighting for a share of over $12,000 in cash and other prizes.
This year there are three weight classes that the horses can compete in: Light (2400 to 3000 lbs), Middle (3001 to 3500 lbs), and Heavy (3501 lbs and over).
The starting weights that they have to haul are 5500 lbs for the Light Weight division, 6000 lbs for the Middle Weights, and 6500 lbs for the Heavy Weights. These weights are placed on the back of a sled, and the sled is then hitched to the horses.
Teams must successfully haul these weights a distance of 14 feet. If successful, the team will advance. More weight will then be added to the sled, and the process repeats. This continues on until one team is left remaining that can out-pull the others.
To demonstrate the concept, here is a little taste from the 2009 competition:
It really is fascinating to see these horses in action, and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to see how much weight some of the championship teams can haul. It’s common to see the horses so excited to compete that they’ll sometimes “jump the gun” and start hauling even before they’ve been hitched (you’ll see that happen at the tail end of the video above; it’s actually quite funny)! Of course, if they do this too many times, the team gets disqualified.
So if you’re interested in seeing some of these heavy horses in action under a competitive atmosphere, once you’re done checking out Draft Horse Town, make sure you check out the Heavy Horse Pull in the Big Top, July 16-18.