It was May of 1993. I was in the process of relocating to Spring Valley, Wisconsin. Whenever at the local stores, I would study the wall of posters to "catch the mood" of the community. On this day full of summer promise, one particular piece had caught my eye - a horse pull...never been...maybe it's a local thing?...nothing to loose...where is Neillsville, anyway????
A short visit with my new Wisconsin map and I had a route picked out. The pull started at 12 noon as it was already after 1...better hurry if I'm going to find out what a horse pull is!
I parked in the far field on purpose. As I was walking up to the bleachers my senses were overfilled with the smells, and sounds, and the sights! These horses were magnificent! So large! So shiney! And all decked out in glamours...harnesses with those big steel things they were dragging! The clanking and calls from the drivers made me tremble. Little did I know...
My arrival was just in time for the Heavyweights...? What does that mean? A few questions to the person sitting next to me and I learned that a horse pull had classes based upon the size of the horses...Lightweights, Middleweights, and then the Heavyweights. These big teams had no ceiling to their size...the sky was the limit. No kidding!!!
The first team to be driven up to the sled or boat was a smaller blonde team. I watched carefully as I saw how that steel thing they were dragging was hooked to the sled and then with a single call from the driver, the team began to pull. The pull distance must be a full 27 1/2 feet in order to "cross the load". If the team did not make the full distance on the first try, a second attempt was allowed. After two tries without crossing, the team was eliminated.
Pulling required unbelievable coordination between the two horses, the driver and the team, and the two people who assisted in the hooking process. It all seemed very dangerous to me...I saw where fingers could be lost in an instant and feet! Dear heavens, the feet!
It was obvious to me that these Heavyweights had some special shoes on their feet, but not until later was I able to examine one of these shoes up close and personal. The pulling shoe is thick steel - usually a full 1/4 inch thick - with a blade of steel across the toe front and two large "corks" on the rear of the shoes. All this was designed to aide the horse in traction and digging power. I looked at those shoes and saw only ripped up knees and torn ligaments if the horses were not called off before they over strained.
Oh, I had so much to learn about pulling and big horses, but I felt over-the-top in energy and excitement. It was too late to not continue - I was already sucked in!!!
The next team to pull was a big, immaculate team in a black with silver harness. The harness was spotless and the team was perfect - not matched in color or size but most impressive...big, slow, deliberate...but something was already drawing me to this team of horses...
The left-hand horse was a shorter but very thick horse with an absolutely huge head. This horse approached the sled with his neck curved and all blown up with intention. His feet pounded the ground! His eyes never left the earth immediately in front of his feet! He was very, very serious about this pulling thing. He marched up to the sled. He did not dawdle or let anything distract him. I got the strong feeling that this horse put his pride on the line every time he pulled.
The right-hand horse, however, was a much different story. He was taller but just as massive and stood an easy foot over his partner. His color was reddish with a white coloring in his hind flank. The people around me said he was a Roan Horse. Didn't know what that meant, but I liked him all the same.
This horse's journey up to the sled was altogether different than his partners. This Roan Horse had his head up and was looking at the crowd and surveying the entire grounds as he strolled - not marched - up to the sled. In fact, I heard the driver order, "Jerry, stand up there! What's the matter with you!". The Roan Horse paid no attention to his owner's callings. That horse was on a mission and right now it had nothing to do with pulling!
I felt my entire being become absorbed by this horse. To this day, I struggle to explain the feeling and what happened next. The best way to explain it to you is to tell you that this Roan Horse found me and then selected me.
His head was high and his eyes were looking over everything from the parked vehicles to the other teams to the crowd. He was looking for something. That big head of his was searching and swinging from side to side as he continued his search. Then he stopped! Yikes!! The team stopped!!! The driver was obviously very angry and with his red face began to holler commands to the team - "Step Up! Jerry!! Ruby! STEP UP!!!"
That big red right-hand horse stopped and looked me right in the eyes. He stared at me for what seemed like forever and then he wrinkled his eyes together and the skin on his forehead had deep creases in it from his wrinkling...he looked right in to me - not just at me. "Take me!", he pleaded, "Get me outta here, please!".
I was frozen in the return stare. I had no control. I could just sit there as I felt his energy go through me. If I had wanted to, I could not have looked away. I felt a surge of energy go through me as I felt, not just heard, his pleadings...the shaking started then.
The driver accelerated his volume and hollerings!! The right-hand horse was stomping the ground in anger at this partner! The driver was spitting his words out! And then the Roan Horse came back to the task at hand. The team drove up to the sled and easily crossed the load. On the trip back to the staging area, the driver shot me a glance of pure disgust. What was I doing to distract his horse? What sounds had I been making? What was the matter with me? I was still shaking but now for a totally different reason!
After the pull, I ventured down in to the trailer area to survey some of these horses up front. It was an excuse. I needed to touch this Roan Horse. The journey was not without stares and comments. I was in trouble.
Locating the team, I meandered up to the driver. No need to worry about introductions. The driver approached me and angrily demanded that I explain what I was doing to cause such a ruckus?! He was obviously very angry with me for causing him embarrassment in front of all these people and the other pullers!
After his approach of me, I quietly introduced myself and told him I had never been to a horse pull before and if I had done something inappropriate, I was certainly sorry. I did chuckle, though, that it didn't seem to bother his team. They pulled like champions.
The flattery worked (whew!) and we began to talk civily. He told me the left-hand horse was Ruby and he was old and maybe had another few pulls left in him. Ruby needed to be "shipped" soon. I was aghast at the lack of loyalty in this man! This horse, he had just told me, had been pulling for him for over seven years! He was solid, the man said, but getting old so he would be shipped! Dear God! What was I getting in to!!!???
The right-hand horse - the misbehaving one - was Jerry, the Roan Horse. He was much younger and had a long future ahead of him but he needed to be "straightened out" when they got home. It was clear that today's behavior would be rewarded with treatment of some sorts. I did not allow my brain to think about the consequences of today.
With that short conversation and those simply comments, I then opened my mouth and asked a question that I had absolutely no idea I was about to ask. Out of absolutely nowhere came the question, "How much do you have to have for them?"
The owner stopped in his tracks. He turned his head and looked at me sideways and laughed out loud! "You want to buy these boys?" he quizzed, still laughing. "Yup", I replied, wondering who was talking because it sure couldn't be me!
Right then and there we negotiated a price for Ruby and I purchased him with delivery to occur on Wednesday of that week. Delivery had to be included, you see, because I didn't even have a horse trailer or a truck that could haul such a big animal. Only once did I hear a little voice inside asking, "Do you know what you're doing?"...I was following my heart and that "thing" that had happened while I was in the stands. I was following my orders - from somewhere - to get this team away from this man. Not just the Roan Horse. This deal must include the older horse, too. Ruby was too gallant to just ship!
Then it was my turn to be stopped in my tracks. The price for the Roan Horse was another thing. He knew what he had and he saw that this horse could be part of his ticket to being famous. But he commented once that he really didn't know if there was a horse that could hold him like Ruby could. The Roan Horse put a tremendous strain on the left hand horse and so it would have to be a younger quicker horse to pair with him in order to allow him to pull up to his potential.
We left it that we would talk again on Wednesday about the Roan Horse. I started to leave and after walking away a whole distance of fifty feet, I turned to look at my new horse and check out his partner. Ruby was standing proudly with his head directly facing the trailer he was tied to. Proud. That horse is so proud! I knew he had understood what had happened. And I could hear his pride cracking.
But the Roan Horse had his head over Ruby's shoulders and once again was looking straight at me. His forehead was once again wrinkled together. I quietly reassured him that I would make arrangements for him, too. Be patient, Jerry. You will come to live with Ruby, too. Have faith, Mr. Champion.
Wednesday came and so did Ruby. I had no idea what to do with a big horse and I actually believe the owner was still laughing as I walked around this horse and assessed my newest resident. After the man left, I told Ruby I would respect him and allow him his pride. All I asked is that he try to relax and enjoy life with me, Ono, and Sweet Lady Gray.
During the delivery of Ruby, I had negotiated price and terms for Jerry. The owner knew he had me and I knew it, too. But Jerry must come, too. And so I agreed to the price - which I negotiated to include the harness - and we set up four installment payments. The Roan Horse would stay with the driver and be used for pulling until I paid the fourth installment. At that time, the Roan Horse would be delivered.
While I was making payments I continued to travel to pulls and stand next to Jerry in the "pit area". Already, I began the response, "The horse is not for sale" to all of the pullers who would casually wander over to ask me, "How much do you have to have for the Roan Horse?". Already, it was the consensus that I was only a temporary spot in this horses life. I would back out of the deal. Or sooner or later, I would sell this monster. And probably sooner because there was no way a little girl like me could handle a big horse like that...!
Jerry came to live with me one year later. And he was never sold. He was loved beyond both of our expectations. He was a Champion to his last breath. He was retired, with Ruby, and spent his years being loved by the children who sat on his back and the men who gasped at his size and the women who just wanted to touch that dread-locked mane.
Jerry, the Roan Horse, drew the occasional puller who "just happened to be driving by" and wondered if they could borrow him for the big Denver Pull or could even buy him for some astronomical price. Each time, my answer was still. "The horse is not for sale." Each time I reassured Jerry that he would not be harnessed for anyone but me. Each time I hugged his neck when we were alone again and was thrilled to be able to protect this monster of a horse. His eyes and forehead were now relaxed. He knew he was safe.
A monster horse with a puppy heart. A giant in heart and soul. A horse who only wanted to be loved and treated gently. A horse who would place himself in harm's way to protect the one who loved him. A horse who was a legend, they tell me. I still go to the local stores and am told about "that Jerry horse". A horse who stole the show - every time! A horse who had asked to be with me and seemed only too happy when that happened. His legend lives on in their memories and in my heart.
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