FRYEBURG — Pitted against a sledge full of stone weights, several teams of horses seemed almost impatient to prove their strength on Wednesday.

Fourteen pairs were signed up for the horse pulling distance sweepstakes at the Fryeburg Fair. No sooner had the drivers hitched them up to the sledges than they were off, back legs kicking hard at the dirt of the pulling ring. The drivers gave the horses frequent stops to catch their breath, and often had to discourage them from resuming their efforts too soon.

At one end of the building, a clock silently counted off five minutes. When the time was up, officials measured how far the team had dragged the weights back and forth across the 150-foot pulling area.

Darrell Tibbetts of Livermore said some events measure how far a set weight can be carried in a certain time, while shorter pulls see which team can pull the most weight. Tibbetts brought six Belgian draft horses to the fair, and won the three-horse pull last year.

“You’ve got to get a nice combination of two horses that click together,” Tibbetts said. “Just because you put two horses together doesn’t mean it’s going to work.”

The training regimen for the horses is essentially the same from owner to owner. Every day, they take the horses walking, often pulling the owner on a “scoot” consisting of runners and a mounted seat. They are sure to give the animals rest periods, and also feed them a healthy diet.

“It’s work, work, work, every day,” said Jim Grover of Lebanon, Conn. “It’s just like every other athlete.”

The horses are usually given a heavier load to pull every few days to complement the exercise.

“Lately, the fairs are really back to back to back, so you don’t have to do that when you’re pulling so much,” said Herbert Mosher of Temple.

Tibbetts said the Belgian horses are the most common ones for pulling, though some people use Percherons. He said the draft horses are mainly used for competitive events, but they are more of a hobby than a profitable venture.

“You don’t make any money,” agreed Anita Kirkpatrick of Whitefield. “It’s all for fun.”

Fred Ryan of Fairfield, Vt., said he has been doing horse pulls for 40 years, and offers sleigh rides with his Belgian horses in the winter. Ryan said he gives the horses a diet of hay and grain and takes them out every day.

“The more work you give them, the better they are,” he said.

Mosher said the owners and horses have to be comfortable in front of the crowds in the pulling ring.

“Sometimes the right crowd can help out the right team,” he said. “They like to hear it, too, encouragement. They know when they did good.”

Ryan said more and more teams are competing each year, but the competition is still amicable. He said he has met many friends at the fairs during pulling competitions.

“Most of the pullers work together, help each other,” he said.

Kirkpatrick, who has two Belgian horses, said the best part of the fair is spending time with her family there. She said owners sometimes share horses to meet requirements in different events.

“We’re just all friends, and we all try to put our horses together so we can compete more,” she said.

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Upcoming horse pulling events

2,900 lbs. and under followed by 3,100 lbs. and under distance, 6:30 p.m.

3,200 lbs. distance, 12:30 p.m.
3,200 lbs. 12 foot elimination, 4:30 p.m.

3,400 lbs. distance, 1 p.m.
3,400 lbs. 12 foot elimination, 7 p.m.

2 lbs. of rock per pound of horse, 2 p.m.

All events take place in the Pulling Pavilion

Carl Parks and his grandson Anthony of New York drive their pulling team of horses from a sled while giving them some exercise at the Fryeburg Fair on Wednesday. Jerry, a brown Belgian, and Diesel, a black Percheron, competed in the horse pulling sweepstakes event.

The bridal of Ted, a 2,500-pound Belgian that belongs to Hector Beaulieu of Lyman.

Mike Beaulieu of Biddeford drives his team of Belgian draft horses during the horse pulling sweepstakes at the Fryeburg Fair on Wednesday.

Jim Grover of Lebanon, Conn., drives his team of horses from a sled while giving them some exercise at the Fryeburg Fair on Wednesday. Grover and his horses competed in the horse pulling sweepstakes event.

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