Published: Sunday, September 2, 2007
Draft ponies take on the pig iron
Draft horses will compete from 8 a.m. to noon
CANFIELD Two-horse teams of draft ponies, bred for strength, and trained to haul travel from as far as West Virginia and Pennsylvania for a shot at the $500 prize.
It's an old-fashioned horse pull the Canfield Fair's annual Pig Iron Derby. The event draws its distinctive name from the area's industrial roots.
In years past, draft horses and ponies pulled sleds loaded with round loaves called pig iron, a byproduct of steel production. Now, they haul steel rails as much as 5,000 pounds of them, said fair board member Jim Brown.
Brown, 65, himself took part in the competition, beginning at age 12, he said.
"It's an old tradition," he said of the horse pulls. "I'm sure they were pulling them when they were starting the fair."
Phyllis Davis' family has been competing in the fair's Pig Iron Derby for three generations. The 59-year-old Mercer County, Pa., resident and her son Greg, 33, brought their two pairs of draft ponies out for Saturday's pull.
"These ponies are athletes," she said. "They have to be trained just like athletes."
Many of the horses in the 23 teams that competed Saturday earned their muscle pulling logs for lumber companies, or from doing farm work, said Brown. Greg Davis works horses Beauty, Clyde, Fred and Dozer three miles daily, he said.
Ponies compete in three categories: Lightweights have a combined horse weight of less than 1,100 pounds; middleweights, 1,400; and the heavyweights top out at 1,700 pounds.
Those who compete are a specialized group and the event keeps them moving, said Phyllis Davis. Her family has traveled as far as New York for the excitement and camaraderie of the tight-knit sport, she said.
"It's a competition between a lot of friends just to see who can have their horses ready this week," she said.
"We always have traveled with our kids and horses," she added. "I just keep doing it as long as my grandchildren want to."
Terry Pinkerton, 38, of Saint Marys, W.Va., drove to Canfield for the pull. After the event, he planned to move on to another hauling contest in Tucker County, W.Va., he said.
Winners of Saturday's draft pony Pig Iron Derby were: lightweight division, Gary Ferguson of Apple Creek; middleweight division, Kevin Arnold of Uhrichsville; heavyweight division, Ed Arnold, also of Uhrichsville.
The Draft Horse Pig Iron Derby will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Monday.