Pulling their weight
As the sun set, Lee Lunceford pulled up a chair.
The Basehor man held tight to the reins of his Belgian horses, Tom and Jerry.
Weighing in at 1,640 pounds and 1,660 pounds respectively, Tom and Jerry, would soon follow Lunceford to the center of the dirt arena. There, the giant Belgians would be chomping at the bit to pull a sled that matched their combined weight.
The lumbering draft horses excitedly prance as they're hooked to a sled their owner will drive. They know their job -- to pull -- and they act as if they can't wait to get started.
The dark sorrels anchor their hind feet to the ground and paw the air with their front legs.
Their seemingly weightless dance is fleeting. Within seconds, they have the sled in tow and they're off -- pulling thousands of pounds in their 15-foot dash for fame.
Again and again throughout Wednesday evening, 15 teams of draft horses pulled increasingly heavy loads until doubling, and then nearly tripling their weight.
In the end, a team owned by Joe Miller, who lives in Clark, Mo., took first place. Miller's 3,350-pound team crossed the final length pulling 9,850 pounds.
Tom and Jerry came in at 13th place, said Lunceford.
His horses pulled about 7,000 pounds, which, Lunceford said, wasn't bad. That's partly because his horses were smaller than some of the others in the contest.
"And there was a lot of good competition there," he added.
One of the teams was owned by Betty and Jack Myers, of Eagleville, Mo. Their Belgians, Ted and Carter, placed fifth in Wednesday's pull.
Betty referred to Belgians as "gentle giants."
And, she recalled her childhood memories about being around draft horses.
"I rode a Belgian to school," Betty said. "Four of us rode on the horse -- it was a 2 1/4 mile-ride to our country school in southern Iowa."
It's not uncommon for those who have been around draft horses to develop a lifelong appreciation of them.
For almost 40 years, Lunceford has worked with draft horses.
About the time he gets a team broke to pull, someone comes along and offers to buy them. His last team, Frank and Jesse, went to a farmer near Atchison.
And right now, Lunceford is thinking about selling Tom and Jerry.
"I'm 76 years old and I'm thinking about selling and quitting," Lunceford said.
It takes time and money to keep the horses, Lunceford said.
"You've got to work them every day and there's a lot of cleaning," Lunceford said. "And it costs a lot to feed them."
But whether he'll sell his Belgians really remains uncertain.
"My wife says if I sell them I'll just get some more," Lunceford said.
For about 20 years, Al Dyer has organized the draft horse pull for the Leavenworth County Fair.
The goal of each match in the pull is for the horses to pull the sled a distance of 15 feet in a 15-foot-wide lane.
"They get three tries to make it and the longest pull is what counts," Dyer said.
With each successive trip to the center of the arena, an additional 50-pound weight is added.
Dyer said he was grateful to area businesses that supported this year's pull, including Himpel Lumber, Horse Country and Heartland Tow.
And of course, Dyer said, he's appreciative of the participants who traveled to Tonganoxie. All except two of the teams were from out of state.
The event was successful, he said, with even more teams competing than usual. And, to the horses' credit, it was fun.
Dyer, who has two draft horses, said they typically are good-natured.
"The longer you're around these horses and the more you work with them the gentler they get," Dyer said.
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