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  • Annual Arma horse pull part of strong tradition

  • Horse pulls are an old school sport, but they still draw a decent crowd.

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  • Horse pulls are an old school sport, but they still draw a decent crowd.
    The annual horse pull Friday night during Arma Homecoming drew more than 200 people to the stands near Hookie Park. They came, young and old, to watch teams of nearly two-ton Belgian and Percheron draft horses, some of which were more than six feet tall at the whithers, battle against each other to see who could pull the most weight over a distance of 15 feet. Weights can reach more than 10,000 pounds.
    The spectacle — essentially an organic tractor pull — is fascinating to observe. Fearless owners drive their massive horses, which were originally bred for plowing and hauling, as well as for use as war horses, onto a strip where they are attached to a sled bearing thousands of pounds of cinder blocks. The horses know what they’re there to do, and can hardly wait to take off — often they let loose before they can even be hooked onto the sled. Often after a successful pull, when they hear the whistle blow, the horses know they’ve done well and like to prance back to their trailers.
    “They know when it’s time to work,” said Weir resident John Ross, who was one of the few pullers Friday night who competed with Percherons, a massive breed that was developed in France in medieval times. “Most of them like it. It’s what they’re bred to do.”
    Ross said he tries to work his horses, 4-year-old Herd and 7-year-old Sis, every day to build up their muscles for competition.
    “They’re like athletes,” said Ross, who used to use draft horses for farming before he got into pulling. “They each eat a 50 pound sack of grain and a bail of hay every day. They eat really well.”
    Despite their imposing physical presence, draft horses are known to be mild-mannered and intelligent animals, Ross said. They’re also known to be good for riding and dressage.
    “For the most part, they’re a really good horse,” he said.
    There were 9 teams from Kansas and Missouri at this year’s pull. The lightest team weighed in at 3,300 pounds, and the heaviest maxed at 3,700.
    The weight increases by 1,000 pounds after each round. The top prize was $200, second place was $100 and third was $74. Each team that was able to pull at least one full load received $40.
    The pulls don’t bring large purses, but that’s not why the pullers do it, said Joe Pohlhopek, who has been organizing the event since he took over for Bill Kovacic years ago.
    “This is their golfing or hunting,” Pohlhopek said. “It’s their very expensive hobby.”
    Pohlhopek’s wife, Susie, who is Kovacic’s daughter, agreed.
    “It’s a family thing,” she said. “They’re well-trained and well-groomed. They’re their babies.”
    Page 2 of 2 - McCune resident Becky Deill said she started pulling with her father when she was 14 years old. She said the pullers all know each other and travel the circuit together.
    “We’re just one big family,” she said. “We all try to out pull each other, but we all try to help each other out.”

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