Folks are willing to travel the distance to participate in a newly popular and growing sport: miniature horse pulling.
“Competition is getting tougher now with folks traveling from other states to compete,” admitted Fred Wolfer, who is credited as the initiator and organizer of the miniature horse pulling events in the northeast.
And sure enough, although Wolfer took home the blue for his recent win in the 38-inch class at the NY Mini Horse Pull Eastern Division at West Wind Farm in Johnstown, NY, the 32-inch class and the 34-inch class were both won by competitors from New Hampshire.
Another competitor, Tom Goodwin Sr., drove up from Bethel, PA with his family in tow to compete in the event. “It took over 4 1/2 hours to get here,” reported Goodwin. Goodwin and his son, Tom, Jr. both compete in the mini-pulls.
The event organizer and club president, Butch Miner, says the family friendly aspect of the sport is one of the reasons more and more folks are getting involved.
Wolfer says the sport teaches kids to feed and work with their horses. “It keeps them moving so they’re not stuck in front of the TV or computer all of the time!”
Fourteen-year-old Jakob Willey of NH won the 32-inch class in the NY Mini Horse-Pull Eastern Division at West Wind Farm with his minis Sam and Scat, by pulling 2,100 pounds for a distance of 3 feet and 9 inches. “We have always been involved with horses,” commented Willey’s mom Lori. “The minis were a smaller version for my son to learn on.” Willey works his minis for a few hours every day, for at least two months prior to any competition.
“Different people have different methods of training, with some training every day and others training every other day,” reported Miner.
Of course, as with any athlete, each mini requires individual evaluation. And, as is the case with Wolfer, some trainers keep their methods secret. “Obviously I’m not going to tell my training methods or secrets!” Wolfer declares.
Each competitor also has their own preference for shoeing their team. Some may use cleats, while someone else may use borium or drill text for traction and some pull with their team bare-footed.
There are also different weight-building methods. The minis are compared to body builders and there is no right or wrong way of accomplishing the desired results.
“One of the challenges is to get the ponies want to do it all of the time,” Miner stated. “You have to develop the athletic-work attitude. Some want to work with you and some want to work against you. If you don’t handle them correctly they won’t work with you — and they don’t forget! You’ve got to have a bag of tricks. What works on one horse won’t work on the next horse.”
Many farmers, including the Amish, made sport of pulling contests between their teams and before long the competitions became pubic events.
Wolfer began organizing mini-pulls in the Northeast in 2008 in Middlefield, Ohio.
“I went down there with 6 pair and started it,” he reports. “There were some guys the Amish pulled with and they had minis but they weren’t organized.”
Wolfer was determined to get organized competitions going. “I spent a lot of money! I bought over 100 miniature horses and a lot of them I just gave away, just to get this thing started and to get people interested.”
One of the attractions of the mini-pulls is that it is more affordable than pulling with big draft horses — and the smaller size of the horse means that a wider age range of folks can compete. Youngsters can compete with oldsters on the same level, while the oldsters can keep their hand in the game due to the smaller sized equines they are working with.
“When you have young kids or older folks trying to harness up a big draft horse, it can be a struggle,” said Fritz Ann Surace of FritzAnn Farms, Fort Plain, NY. “A lot of these older men that can’t get the harness on the big ones anymore can still compete with the minis. The excitement and the enjoyment are there with the little ones, as well as the big ones, and the cost is way down.”
Many mini-pulling clubs have cropped up since 2008. Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York and New Hampshire lead the list. “A new club in was formed this year in Michigan,” Wolfer reports. “They’re going to hold a Michigan State Championship.” More clubs are being formed in Oregon, Missouri and Mississippi. “We have an end of the year team round up Keene, NH in October.” Wolfer says that families come from as far away as Kentucky to compete and he is also planning to be there.
Wolfer challenges any competitors to a showdown with his 36-inch minis. “I want to send out a challenge because I don’t think there’s anybody in the United States that can beat me in the 36-inch class!” He says he is willing to put his money where his mouth is. “Come one, come all! I’ve turned them out because no one can compete with them. They’re just a very special pair!”
Wolfer claims he also has a 32-inch team that is unbeatable. “I pulled them against 36-inch teams at a competition and they won! They’re bad to the bone!”