How about using draft horses for pulling competitions?
Written by by Lynn Telleen
It likely started with a dirty look. Then, maybe a gesture, possibly obscene. Finally, one farmer told the other that his team was nothing compared to his own. Off came the gloves and, of course, this led to a bet and the competition to end all doubts. What and how much they pulled is anyone's guess. Where and when it took place is "sketchy," but most accounts place it here in the good, ol' U.S.A.
Regardless of the lack of historical records, the sport of horse pulling is bigger today than it has ever been. There are more pulls in more states; the horses are better, the training, feed and conditioning regimens are more advanced and, consequently, the loads being pulled are heavier each year. On September 23, 2003, two different heavyweight teams both broke the record for a load at the Hillsdale County Fair, Hillsdale, Michigan, with full distance pulls of 27-1/2 feet lugging 4,675 lbs. The entries of Jerald Keegan and Ken Heightchew, Reading, Michigan, share the title with Ray Powell and Sons, Newcastle, Kentucky. The record they broke (4,650 lbs. by Boomer Clark, Belfast, New York) only stood one year. Many other records have been broken in the past decade. Those in the know expect more of the same in our near future.
The demand for top pullers, too, has skyrocketed. It is not uncommon for the best pullers to sell for $30,000 or more–or for mere weanlings to bring thousands. No doubt about it–horse pulling has reached a new pinnacle, and it is here to stay.
If you know anything at all about pulling horses, you know that "all the best ones come from Daviess County, Indiana" ... well, mostly. J. Cary Hall of Sadieville, Kentucky (population 170), might disagree just a little. The 65-year-old, better known as "Shady," is the breeder, owner and primary cheerleader of a coming 9-year-old Belgian stallion that is steadily and conclusively creating a name for himself in the pulling scene.
Genetics is everything–in cattle, swine, poultry, flowers, hitch horses ... why would it be any different for pulling horses? It isn't, but as Shady explains, until recently, [most] horse pullers did not pay much attention to pedigrees. Only in the past decade or so, did they start to take notice of the bloodlines that emphasized and intensified a horse's strength and agility–which factors heavily into their ability to pull heavy loads short distances.
Speaking of genetics, when I asked Cary how he got the nickname, Shady, he said it came from his dad. The elder Shady was a tobacco farmer near Georgetown, Kentucky. He farmed with horses until Cary was about 12 years old. In that area and time, a tobacco grower would sell his crop at an auction warehouse. As a 16-year-old, Cary took a weekend job at one of those warehouses for a man named C.V. Ethington. "I ended up working for him for 25 years," he recalls. "When I was 20 years old, my dad got killed in a farming accident. After that, Ethington called me 'Little Shady.'"
He explains that his father was a large man–6'-5" tall and wore a size 54 sport coat. Though he can't verify it, Cary assumes that folks called his dad "Shady" because of the considerable shadow he cast. Over the years, "Little Shady" was shortened to just "Shady" and it stuck. Today, he even signs his checks with just that one word: "Shady."
A neighbor and friend of the elder Shady, Billy Green, proved to be a positive influence on the younger Shady. Cary refers to him not only as one of his mentors, but as a "real teamster that pulled horses." Billy would let Cary work with his teams and he taught the youngster how to mouth a horse, to shoe and to adjust harness and fit collars. "Billy tried to make a first-class horseman out of me," he recalls. "When I was old enough to have a car and was dating, if I happened by his place and he was out hitching, I'd stop, get out and hook for him. There'd be dust all over me when I showed up for my date. By the time I got out of high school, I was pulling horses with Billy. He, and my experiences with him, really taught me a lot. He was the Will Rogers of our little crossroads community."
From the early 1960s to the early '70s, Shady pulled and broke horses. He married Janice, his high school sweetheart, in 1963 and they had two children. Shady then got BIG into farming (3,000 to 5,000 acres), including 140 to 150 acres of tobacco, running a cow-calf operation and a feedlot, not to mention the raising of his young family. He got too busy for horse pulling and gave up the sport ... gave up draft horses altogether. After four bad droughts in five years, he started a trucking company in 1983 (which he named "Shady Creek Trucking," in honor of his dad). That business is going strong today.
"It was the late '80s before I stopped farming on such a large scale," he explains. "Then I really wanted to get back into draft horses. I bought a pair of geldings to work around the farm. Then Janice and I went to a farm sale to buy a wagon. Instead, we found seven starved mares at the auction. We bought five of them, got them home and poured the groceries to them."
This got Cary even more interested and he bred the mares ... and bought others. In the mid-'90s, Don Raider, who has served as yet another of Shady's mentors, took Hall to Daviess County, Indiana. "Don told me that if I liked to raise colts, I should raise pulling colts." Hall started buying pulling-type mares and thus, began his career breeding Belgian horses of the pulling variety.
In 2000, he bred his mare Shirley's Queen to C.D.'s Rock Supreme (Spring 2004 DHJ). Rock Supreme, bred by Johnny Wagler Jr., stood 18 hh and weighed in at 2,150 lbs. Shirley's Queen stood 18.2 hh and weighed 2,280 lbs. She came by her size honestly. Lisa's Patrick, her paternal grandsire, was a huge horse that had stood in Daviess County. Her maternal grandsire was Grange's Pete Farceur. Larry and Ben Reed used a son of the horse to produce a lot of good pullers. Pete was by Big Ben Farceur, who was aptly named weighing in at 2,800 lbs!
Pullers know C.D.'s Rock Supreme, unquestionably one of the greatest pulling sires ever, like hitchmen know Korry's Captain and halter fans know Jay-Lou-Supreme. Rock's maternal grandsire was Orndorff's Conqueror Supreme. His paternal grandsire was Sunny Lane Farceur and his maternal great-grandsire was Sparrow's Lionel Resque. A great-great-grandsire is Duke Farceur II, who stood at Charlie and Ralph House's for a spell. Do you think Charlie Orndorff, Herbert and Don Schneckloth, Ross and Dick Sparrow or Charlie and Ralph House ever tried to raise a pulling horse? Not likely, but as Shady points out, they did try to raise good, big horses.
"The specialization that exists today in draft horses was grossly absent some 40 years ago," he observes. As some breeders concentrated on producing taller, high-stepping, long-necked hitch horses, others went for the wide-chests, ample girth and substantive hind quarters favored by pullers. In both camps, the gene pools became (and are becomeing) ever more concentrated. Shady is concerned for the future.
There are actually nine C.D. Rock Supreme sons standing for stallion service today. All are tightly bred, with one exception. Shady's mare, Shirley's Queen, doesn't descend from Rock or King, as the majority of today's pulling stock does.
Shirley's foal arrived on March 28, 2001, and was registered as Bent Creek Shade Rock. He was big and correct. A few months later, as a weanling, he was running with one other stud colt. "Don Raider was up and wanted to buy the other one," recalls Shady. "When I told him I was planning to keep Shade Rock for a stud, he said I should cut him because he was 'the wrong color (a bit of roan) and his head was too big!'"
Jim, the other colt (whom Raider bought), ended up in the successful Heightchew & Humphrey team that won Versailles, Owenton, Nicholasville, Cynthiana, Taylorsville & Harrodsburg last year. As for Shade Rock, he consumed the groceries and grew up ... intact.
In 2003, Shady's herd sire Cracker's Red George suffered a heart attack and died. The horse was just nine years old and it was a real kick in the pants to the Halls, as George had been siring some very good pulling colts–such as Cracker, owned by Ingram Wessell, Norland, Ontario, Canada; and Coley, that Jim Bob Adams used to win the Indiana State Fair pull with the last two years. This left Shady with few options, so he bred Shade Rock to two registered mares and one grade. Though Shade Rock was just two years old, he stood 17.3 hh and tipped the scales at 1,800 lbs. At any rate, Shade Rock received an early and unexpected promotion to "senior herd sire" status.
Shade Rock's first colt, C.D. Cracker Berry, was sold at the 2004 Southern Indiana-Daviess County Sale, consigned by J.R. Adams and Willard Wagler. The catalog listed the colt as "a stud prospect" and he fetched $4,000 at just three-and-a-half months of age. Out of a Homestead's Cracker Supreme daughter owned by J.R., the colt was bought by Jeff, Mike and Brent Wagler, Montgomery, Indiana. Today the horse is five years old and the Wagler Bros. are standing him at stud in Daviess County.
Willard Wagler (Jeff, Mike and Brent's father) says there are about 10 mares in foal to Cracker Berry for 2010. The Waglers are quite happy with his foals so far and are not having any difficulties finding buyers for them. Willard is a part-owner of C.D. Cracker Jack, the 3/4-brother to Cracker Berry that sold for $16,000 as a weanling. (In case you were wondering, the other members of the "syndicate" that own Cracker Jack include Rick Lowery, Mary Raider, Jim Knepp, Harry Knepp, John Wagler Jr., Vick Lengacher, and–get this–Shady Hall!) Willard concedes that his sons' horse is taller and longer in the back than Jack, but both studs are "siring the right kind."
Berry was the ONLY Shade Rock offspring to ever sell at public auction. All others have been sold right off the farm. "When I started raising pulling colts," explains Shady, "I knew that for my foals to be seen by the right people–the people looking for this kind of horse, that there were three places a man had to have them: JoJo Duvall and Glen Russelburg, Beaver Dam, Kentucky, are visited by all the pullers of the Midwest and South; all of the East Coast pullers come and go at Danny and Mose Hershberger's, Fredericksburg, Ohio; and everybody from every place comes to Vick and Marvin Lengacher's, Montgomery, Indiana when the Daviess County Sales (the most prominent pulling horse markets in North America) are going on."
Are Shade Rock offspring resident at these three farms, you ask? All three. "Fifty percent of the battle is putting good colts in good hands," sums up Shady.
There are a lot of reasons for the resident horses at JoJo Duvall's place to be examined by tons of pullers. She and Glen Russelburg organize and host the annual Bluegrass Draft Horse and Mule Championship, the largest single-day pull in the U.S., boarding many of the entrants headed to and from the event. They also host a party the night before the pull that draws upwards of 200 people–and specifically, the type of people that would take an interest in pulling colts and their backgrounds.
In addition, JoJo and Glen run Community Equine Supply, specializing in vitamins for pulling horses and mules. This, too, brings the "right kind" of horse person around. And lastly, they live just two miles off the Wendell Ford Parkway, handy for anyone in the area.
Brothers Danny and Mose Hershberger have three Shade Rock sons, one of which they are standing at stud. Marvin Lengacher has a yearling son of Shade Rock. And it doesn't stop there.
Greg and Amy Kelly, Braeside, Ontario, Canada, are relatively new to the pulling scene. Though Greg has been involved with horses since he was a kid, he started pulling just eight years ago. Amy says, "He has always been interested in raising his own horses, but has found that many of the horses around here are from show operations and do not have the 'body' Greg likes for pulling horses.
"In the fall of 2007, Greg called Cary, because he had an ad for a colt in The Draft Horse Journal that Greg liked the looks of. Our first colt from Cary is not by Shade Rock. We went down to pick up the colt and saw Shade Rock 'in person.' Greg instantly liked him and told Cary to keep him in mind when there were colts available from him.
"The following fall, Cary called, saying that he had some Shade Rock colts ready and he sent us some pictures. Greg called and said he was very interested in one. He went down a few weeks later to pick him up.
"Greg has long term plans of breeding his mares with this colt and raising pulling stock. He has some pretty fair mares and he has pulled a couple of them in the past." Greg is realistic in that he does not expect any immediate returns, but feels that having a Shade Rock son will pay off in the years to come.
Jeremy Johnson, Westmoreland, Kansas, is a happy return buyer to Bent Creek Farm. Shady sold him a half-brother to Shade Rock, then found him three mares in Daviess County. Jeremy has since returned for a pair of young geldings, including a Shade Rock son that he plans to pull with his original horse. "I saw Cary’s ad in The Draft Horse Journal and called him," says Jeremy. "The reason I chose to buy from him is because I knew he had raised several good horses. I have been very happy with all the horses I have bought from Cary."
Of his Shade Rock son, he says, "I’m excited about Tim because I know he is going to be big and poweful. I've sent him to the Amish here in Kansas the last two summers. They really like him. I won’t start pulling him for at least another year to give him time to finish growing. There’s not a lot of horses with these bloodlines in our area, so I’m looking forward to start pulling them."
Bryan Davis, Grinnell, Iowa, bred a home-raised mare to Shade Rock last year. "We already own two grandsons of C.D. Rock that we are pulling. And we know that Shade Rock’s offspring are pullers. A very large percentage of them are becoming pulling horses, or are raising pullers. He is retaining some of the older-style conformation, which we happen to like. I wanted to raise either a filly to retain for our herd and breed to our stud, or a colt to use on our mares. We are trying to strengthen our herd on the pulling side. We already have decent pulling blood through our current stud, Bry-Don’s Jaysen. Shade Rock is not only big, but conformationaly sound, and since he is roan, he will help us retain the dark red in the colts we are raising. He has a very strong mare line behind him on both sides."
Bryan's mare, Bry-Don’s Supreme Maggie, stands 18 hh and weighs 2,200 lbs. He describes her as "dark red, very clean and smooth, with tremendous bottoms." Her 2009 Shade Rock foal was a filly that Bryan describes as "looking very good. Shelly is a very nice red sorrel, white mane and tail, and white blaze, and is very conformationally correct–good hocks and extremely good-footed for a weanling, and most importantly, she is very level headed." So good, that he bred the mare back, in addition to another mare, Bry-Don’s Kayla, a daughter of Kauffman’s Klancy (1992 Reserve All-American Stud Foal).
"We are very happy with what Jaysen and our brood mares are producing," admits Bryan, "but as with any good breeding operation, you have to bring a new horse in somewhere. We think that Shade Rock is a very good fit for our herd. His offspring are speaking for themselves."
So which mare lines are emerging as the best cross(es) for Shade Rock? No simple answer exists, Janice Hall explains, "A large percentage of pulling horses go back to the Sunny Lane family, particularily those in Daviess County, Indiana. Our 18 brood mares descend from the proven bloodlines of Blondie III, One-Eyed Bill, Dolly Buck, Cracker's Red George, King and C.D.'s Rock Supreme. They range from 17 to 18 hh and weigh from 1,700 to 2,200 lbs., yet are feminine in conformation.
"To say which of these crosses is likely to produce a record-breaking puller is no different than trying to breed a Kentucky Derby winner–the pedigree and conformation of the animal are important, but so are the unknowns of heart and training!
"Bred to these mares, Shade Rock has produced sizable colts with qualities we think are relevant to the continued success of the Belgian breed. But like any athlete, the horse’s influence as a puller may depend on the abilities and skill of the handler or teamster."
JoJo Duvall applauds the Halls. "Shady and Janice are both knowledgeable about pulling horses and pedigrees," she says. "They are great promoters of the breed, they have worked very hard to develop the breeding program they have and I wish them all the success in the world."
A LOT OF PULL
Today, Shade Rock stands 18 hh and weighs in at 2,300 lbs. He wears a 32-inch collar and, in Shady's terms, is "the pride of the farm." Shady has 13 of his own mares in foal to Shade Rock for 2010. He says two or three are already spoken for. The others will likely take care of themselves.
Harry Knepp, Plainville, Indiana, confirms, "Shade Rock is a big horse with a deep girth, he stands square and is cornered out well. He has a little snap to him, but he's not too aggressive–he has a very good disposition. He consistently throws colts with size and his good disposition when bred to good mares."
With just 35 registered foals on the ground (and two grades), Shade Rock is definitely an open book–open to an early chapter, no less. But his fan club is growing and includes some heavy hitters. Highly respected horseman, plowing match champion and horse farmer, Charlie Orme, Mount Sterling, Kentucky, included. He is expecting four foals by the horse in 2010–and Charlie owns his own stallion! "Shade Rock is an outstanding stallion, with size and the kind of disposition you want in a pulling horse," he says. "I expect he'll make as much or more of an impact on the pulling industry as his sire did."
You have to admit–there's a heck of a big shadow being cast across the future of the horse pulling industry ... and its source ... well, that's a smidge south of Daviess County, Indiana.