Half-Pint Horsepower

1/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Jessica Rose Spangler Reporter

Miniature Horses Pull Their Way to Victory at Farm Show

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Miniature ponies aren’t just cute to look at, they’re strong, determined half-pint horses, some of which can pull more than twice their weight.

On Monday evening at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, 17 teams gathered in the Equine Arena for the annual Mini Horse Pull competition, which is in its second year.

Much like the more common draft horse or tractor pulls, the paired minis are hitched to a weighted sled and challenged with pulling the most weight the furthest distance.

Mini horse pairs are assembled into classes based on their height. The most common unit of horse height measurement is hands — one hand equaling 4 inches. But minis are measured in plain inches, with pulling classes of “under 34 inches,” “under 36 inches” and “under 38 inches.”

Within the pair of minis, the class the team enters is based on the smaller of the two horses. If one is 35 inches tall and the other 33, the pair will compete in the “under 34 inches” class. If a horse is 39 or more inches tall, it must compete in the regular pony pull, not a mini pull.

Judge Dean Jenny of Beaver County, Pa., said that finding a pair of miniature horses that are capable of competing could be a daunting task. Owners first need to find horses that are willing to pull and then out of the willing, determine which horses can work well together.

“Not all of them are meant to do this or like to do this. It’s really an art to find the ones that want to pull. They’re athletes,” he said.

“They have to have the heart,” added judge Fay Schoonoover of McKean County, Pa.

Equipping each team can also be an expensive task. Event scorekeeper Phyllis Davis of Mercer, Pa., said the harness, collar and equipment each horse wears is around 50 pounds. Most tack has to be custom made, often by an Amish specialist.

Each team must pull the sled 10 feet for a full pull. They are allowed to move the sled less, based on their capabilities, but if the sled has not moved after three attempts, the team is disqualified.

To start off the pull, teams in the “under 34 inches” category began by pulling an empty sled, which weighs 500 pounds.

Spectators gave loud applause to 6-year-old Emilynn Howell when her team of minis, Sisco and Spanky, was hitched to the sled. This was Emilynn’s first year to pull, thanks to the assistance of her grandfather Sam Howell Sr. of Hobby Horse Acres, Newville, Pa.

Howell Sr. said all six of their miniature horses were rescued from Hoof ’n Hearts horse rescue in Reading, Pa., including the two Emilynn used for this pull.

“She’s been driving since before she could walk,” said her father, Sam Howell Jr. “She’s been driving Belgian’s (draft horses) before this.”

At the end of the first round in all three classes, any team that made a full pull of the empty 500-pound sled was able to move on to round two — the sled plus another 500 pounds.

As teams began to fall to the challenge, the strongest teams moved on to round three — 1,250 pounds. Then on to round four with its 1,500-pound quest.

Spectators took in a scary sight when first-year driver Kyle Spako was dragged across the arena by his team of “under 36 inch” minis. By holding on to the reins until they halted, he was not disqualified and could return to the pull in continuing rounds — and his next pull resulted in a full 10-foot pull.

With only two teams remaining in each class, the final round began with a sled weighing 1,750 pounds.

Davis said that most of these teams weigh a combined 800 pounds or less, meaning that by this point, they are attempting to pull more than twice their weight.

The pull ended with a bang when the “under 38 inch” team owned by Gene Davis, Mercer, Pa., and driven by his son, Greg, was the only team to achieve a full pull on the final weight of 1,750 pounds.

The team of Carl and Carrie Ealy of Renfrew, Pa., topped the “under 34 inch” class, pulling 1,750 pounds 2 feet,10 inches. And Kimberly Nutwell’s team, driven by Chuck Nutwell of Needmore, Pa., pulled 1,750 pounds 1 foot, 3 inches to win the “under 36 inch” class.

During the pulls, the three judges were also assigned the task of determining which driver in each class would win the Teamster Award, given to the driver who handled his team with the most ease, poise and success. This driver doesn’t always have the winning team.

William “Tell” Kincaid won in the “under 34 inch” class, Chuck Nutwell in the “under 36” and Greg Davis in the “under 38.”

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