Last night my friend, Sheryl and I and Sheryl's pot-bellied pig, Foster, went to the draft-horse pulling exhibition at Lorah's Farm Festival in Walnutport, PA. Foster went along for a meet-and-greet session in preparation for a stint at a local nursing home. Foster drew a crowd almost as large as that watching the draft horses pulling a sled full of concrete blocks.
I can seldom enjoy myself at such competitions like horse racing, jumping, competitive trail rides, and even regular horse shows. Why? I always worry that a horse will get hurt, drop over from exhaustion, or that something terrible, like a trailer accident, is imminent. When it comes to animals and the sometimes over-zealous expectations people have of them, I'm the biggest worry-wart around. After all, the animals themselves don't sign up for all this competitiveness. They are more content lazing their days on pasture than cavorting around the countryside looking to show off and best others of their own kind. Horses don't understand the point of being trailered off their home patch, taken from their mobile house, saddled up, and ridden among a throng of others like themselves around a showring or racetrack. Likewise, the draft horses at the Lorah Family Farm Fest, even though they've pulled dead weight at other times, don't really understand the logic behind pulling eight thousand pounds of concrete block 27 and a half feet across a dirt lane.
As we watched the horse pulling contest, I held my breath, almost too afraid to look, as the horses strained against their collars, their front legs pulling, stabbing into the ground, their hind legs hopping, galloping against the poundage. And then the laden sled lurched forward, the horses' nostrils flaring under the effort. I grimaced. For sure, I thought, some disaster is about to happen: a horse snapping a knee, a hock, or injuring a shoulder. When each pair of Percherons or Belgians, each horse weighing in at around 2,000 pounds, were hooked by chains to the sled, I gasped, scared to death for those horses who were giving their all, who were pulling with their hearts. I worried their owners, in an effort to win the contest, would push them beyond the limits of their bodies.
My faith in mankind, however, was restored as, in a couple of cases, the owners stopped their draft horses before they could have injured themselves. Their way of competing their animals yet protecting their health and welfare should be a lesson for those in Thoroughbred racing. Racehorse owners owe their large-hearted horses the consideration of and respect for their physical soundness, their lives: no racing before the age of three when the growth plates have closed and the fragile leg bones have grown strong.
At the Lorah Family Farm Fest, great men put aside greed and ego for the sake of their horses' well-being. What a refreshing evening.