Horse-drawing families say, ‘It’s in the blood’
Joe Malloy's team, Tom and Bean, strain to pull the "boat" loaded with cement during Sunday morning's horse pull held at the Heath Fairgrounds. Malloy, from Adams, MA, placed second in the event. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Joe Malloy Jr. of Adams, MA and horses Tom and Bean wait their turn at Sunday's horse pull held at the Heath Fairgrounds. Malloy and his team came in second in the morning event. Recorder/Trish Crapo
HEATH — With 7,500 pounds of concrete on a sled, horses Tony and Jiggy take off, easily passing the six-foot mark and continuing until the handlers manage to catch their attention and unhitch them.
The next pair strains at the load, heads low, necks parallel to the ground and lungs working like bellows. They make the distance and prance off lightly once unhitched, heads high, handlers leaning backward against the weight of the bar at the end of the harness.
Close to 50 people turned out for the horse draw on Sunday, most seated in the stands under the wooden pavilion of the dedicated drawing arena at the Heath Fair Grounds, surrounded by the smells of hot grass, horse manure and meat on the grill.
Wannetta Powling sat in a lawn chair across the chain-link fence from Tony and Jiggy, a fence Jiggy occasionally chewed in what she identified as a nervous habit, along with his occasional percussive hoof stomps.
Like many present, Powling of Newfane, Vt. made a long drive to visit the Heath draw. Powling is waiting for the no-weight-class free-for-all event. Her husband sponsors a horse trainer in that competition, and she expects his team to place in the top three. In the meantime, “In this class, anyone can win. It’s a social thing,” Powling said.
Gordon Johnson owns Jiggy and Tony, who won the first event — in the 3,300 pound and under combined weight class — dragging four tons across the thoroughly trampled pit.
The final event, the free-for-all, isn’t scheduled to begin for a couple of hours, and most spectators have retreated from the stands under the wooden pavilion to fix sandwiches from coolers or line up at the food vendor’s shed.
Johnson’s daughter and her boyfriend managed the team, his wife kept an eye on the harnesses and his stepson also competed, taking third place with a team including another of Johnson’s horses.
First prize at a local pull covers gas money, Johnson said, and it’s a chance to get together and have some fun. Johnson of Putney, Vt. owns a small trucking company and trains his horses in the summer.
For Johnson, the activity is about family on two levels: it unites them and it’s the result of family.
“Keeps my family together,” he said. “I’ve had horses all my life, my father had horses and I have horses, I guess it’s in the genes.”
Johnson isn’t the only competitor to take this view.
“It’s in our blood,” said Joe Malloy Sr. “The Malloys been pulling how long, fellas? Forty? Fifty?” The question is directed to brothers Clayton and Richard Pease, out from Hinsdale and Dalton, respectively, for the draw.
The Peases don’t know Malloy, an Adams resident, outside of horse draws, but they’ve been attending long enough to remember his father competing, and Joe Malloy Jr. is now handling the team.
Malloy Sr. said the Heath draw was the family’s first competition in two years; they had put horses Tom and Bean out to pasture for a time after his wife died.
The younger Malloy, 35, said he has been working with horses since he was 8 years old, and though he now works for a cement company, he still finds time for horses. Malloy Jr. said he wished he’d waited a little longer, building the horses up with miles-long slogs in front of training weights, but the pair managed second place despite their hiatus.
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