Photo Essay

Horse Pullling at a Town Fair in Western Massachusetts

State fairs draw tens of thousands to hear rock stars, watch demolition derbies and cheer horse races. County fairs are smaller, with rides for children and tractor pulls - - amongst other attractions. But New England town fairs have quiet pleasures, like chicken grilled by the volunteer fire department and pries for the best jams and jellies - - and my favorites, the horse and oxen pulling contests.

These photos walk you through a horse pull in very rural Heath Massachuetts, with teams competing by weight classes as they pull wood sleds (called "boats"). Each team, usually Belgians, is given five minutes and up to three pulls. The required distance is 6 feet at ever increasing loads. In the final round, the load may be more than 3,000 pounds and the winning distance well under 6 feet.

The horses are well conditioned athletes, working out for an hour or more every days during the Spring and early summer months. The time spent working with the horses, the tack, feed and veterinarian bills mean that the farmer has means, commitment and skill. The cash prizes help a little, but just a little.

As the big teams back up to make the hitch they are raring to go - - - often making false starts, which means the teamster will have to calm the team down and then bring them around for another hitch. The hitch is made by the driver's two assistants whose timing, nerves and aim are crucial. The teams know their business, lunging off at the "clang" when the hitch is made.

Teamwork as they say.

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