Calgary – The silver anniversary of the Heavy Horse Pull at the Calgary Stampede attracted competitors from far and wide, including a teamster who was among the original 13 entrants when the event launched in 1992.
While some things have changed — the competition is now spread over three nights of action in the Agrium Western Event Centre instead of having all the classes in the same arena every night — others are the same as they were 25 years ago.
“The horses have to have a tremendous amount of heart and desire. What happens when you get to a competition like Calgary is you are asking your horses to do something that no other team has done. For instance, in 2008, with my heavy weight team, we set the record,” said Ricky Byrne, 74, a four-time Champion in that weight class. “It also shows the importance of condition. You can have heart, but without condition, you can’t pull.”
Byrne, who grew up watching his father work his heavy horses on the family dairy farm near Windsor, Ont., said the sport has evolved in the quarter-century since the Stampede held its first pull.
“The teamsters that I know have gotten more dedicated to the sport. They take better care of their horses and you learn about what it takes to have a competitive team. The horses are better bred these days and people are more choosey on their animals,” said Byrne, who lives outside of Regina, Sask. “I’ve had my team since they were colts. I bought one at six months old, the other at a year. I have worked them to the point where they can compete. It takes about seven years for a horse to develop before you ask them to pull their limit.”
This time out, Byrne and his team placed sixth in the light weight division with a 48-inch pull of 9,000 pounds. In the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull, teams in three weight classes pull weighted sleds — up to more than five times the horse’s body weight — up to 14 feet, known as a “full pull.” The Grand Champion in each class receives $3,000; the Reserve Champion $2,500, with a sliding scale of payouts for the rest of the field.
In Friday’s light weight finals, teamster Randy Dodge of Albany, Ore. drove the team he co-owns with Stan Grad to the Grand Champion spot with a 48-in. pull of 10,600 lb. in the eighth round. Reserve Champion went to Dan Nield of Afton, Wyo. for driving his own team to a 25-in. pull of 10,000 lb.
Saturday night’s middle weight action wrapped up with Dodge in the Grand Champion slot once again after landing a full pull of 11,000 lb. in the 10th round with the team he co-owns with Grad. Nick Barney, out of Rigby, Idaho, drove his own team to the Reserve Champion title with a 22-in. pull at the same weight.
Dodge missed out on a clean sweep of the Heavy Horse Pull when Melvin Yoder drove his own heavy weight team to the win with a 132-in. pull of 12,500 lb. Sunday night. Dodge and his team took Reserve Champion with a 17.5-inch pull at the same weight.
“This is only their second contest together,” Yoder said of his team of Bob and Chester, who weighed in at 4,506 lb. “I was really nervous about him (Bob) because he wants to grab and go. I had to get the right bit on him or else he was backing off on the bit. Once I got that figured out, he was good.”
Yoder, who made the trek to his first Stampede from his home in Mondovi, Wisc., was assisted in the ring by his 18-year-old daughter, Chayenne. She’s been pulling for almost two years, and is the reason why Bob is on the team, as he is her favourite horse. He’d been pastured for the past year due to health concerns. So, is Bob still retired?
“Not anymore,” Yoder said with a big smile. “I think we’ll have to bring him back next year.”
For full results from the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull, please visit https://ag.calgarystampede.com/results.
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west. The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
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