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The Real Fun of the Fair Was the Horse Pulling
Jim Harrison
August 31, 1970
Maybe the kids preferred the freak show, but what the county farmers came to see were the teamsters' tugs-of-war
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August 31, 1970

The Real Fun Of The Fair Was The Horse Pulling

Maybe the kids preferred the freak show, but what the county farmers came to see were the teamsters' tugs-of-war

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Today, as yesterday, most teams are keyed to start pulling by the sound of the clank of the hitch when the hook drops in, rather than by the shout of the teamster. Two assistants carry the ends of the eveners as the team swings up to the boat, the teamster seats himself holding the reins tightly; then with the clank or the shout their flanks lower, and the horses strain forward against the weight, tearing out clots of earth with their hooves. When the 27�-foot distance is reached, a whistle is blown. No well-trained audience ever claps until the distance is covered, as the horses associate applause with success and will stop short.

Horse pulling is still an extremely expensive sport, and the prize money so pitifully small as to make it virtually amateur. Top prizes rarely go over $250. A pulling team which will be in its prime for only about five years can cost anywhere from $400 to $20,000, and to this initial expense must be added the cost of hauling a team from contest to contest, the feeding of animals that eat four times as much as racehorses and the considerable price of the custom harness.

Like much that our parents believed in, horse pulling as a sport will, I suspect, disappear—probably in my own lifetime. Breeding the animals will no doubt continue, but the sport, I'm sure, will suffer a natural degeneration as organic to our time as the death of jousting was to the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, back at the fair, the audience grows older and sparser. Today the grandstand at a pulling contest, admission to which is free, looks like a retirement colony on holiday. Horse pulling cannot compete with DAN'S HELL ROARING DEVIL DRIVING CAR SMASHERS, the feature attraction of this year's fair.

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