Weinberger Edges Closer to Heavy Horse Pull Trifecta

Nine teams from across North America squared off Saturday night under the Big Top during the middleweight final of the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull, the richest horse pull in North America. Photo: Calgary Stampede

Saturday night, Weinberger’s mammoth Springbank Belgians team of Davey and Dillon outpulled rivals Barney and Doc, the equine giants representing Scott Fisher’s outfit from Edwardsburg, Mich., to win the middleweight final of the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull under the Big Top.

The margin of victory? Ten inches, hooked to an 11,000-pound sled. And that makes two victories in two nights for the Cochrane, Alta.-based Weinberger, with only the heavyweight division pull, on Sunday, July 18, remaining on the card. The elusive Stampede trifecta, then, is in sight.

“Don’t jinx me. I don’t even want to talk about it. I’m serious,” said Weinberger, who then relented with a chuckle. “I was once within an inch-and-a-half of the (Stampede’s) triple crown. In 2003, Ronnie Sebastian (of Lumsden, Sask.) took it away on me. He barely outpulled us in the lights, and I won the middles and the heavies.”

After four complete rounds – teams started with a 6,000-pound sled, and moved up in 1,000-pound increments – six of the nine middleweight teams were still in play Saturday. But Bob McGowan’s team from Lebanon, Ore., supported by Glover International Trucks, could only manage 61 inches at 10,000 pounds to finish sixth. Kevin Danyluk’s outfit from Colinton, Alta., made it 103 inches at 10,000 pounds to finish fifth.

Nicolas Pouso, of the Alberta Carriage Supply-supported Soderglen Ranches team from Airdrie, Alta., fell out of contention at 10,500 pounds, making it 50 inches, while Randy Dodge of Albany, Ore., supported by Candor Engineering, pulled 122 inches at 10,500 for a third-place cheque of $1,500.

That left just Weinberger and Fisher remaining at 11,000 pounds. And after Fisher’s Canadian Petroleum Engineering-supported team managed 15 inches, Weinberger’s Calgary Co-Op team stepped up to the plate.

One final lunge by Davey and Dillon, and it was all over – 25 inches, a winner’s cheque of $3,000 for Weinberger, and a chance at a clean sweep on Sunday at 7 p.m.

Fisher, making his Stampede debut, knows all the personalities involved in Saturday night’s drama. Last November, he and Weinberger struck up a business arrangement, with Fisher agreeing to train all 16 of the Springbank Belgians’ pulling horses from January to June. Saturday’s photo finish wasn’t much of a surprise, considering there were only six pounds’ difference in the weight of the first- and second-place heavy horse teams – 3,467 for Barney and Doc, 3,461 for Davey and Dillon.

“It worked out exactly the way I wanted it to. I had hoped the two of us would finish first and second,” said Fisher, a third-generation puller who competes all over the American Midwest.

“We both are fierce competitors, but we’re friends no matter what. Dennis is a super competitor, and I’m as serious as he is, although moreso in the States,” added Fisher. “I mean, I want to do well here, because it’s my first time up here. But this pull means the world to Dennis. And I have a pull in Michigan (Hillsdale) that means the same sort of thing to me.”

Weinberger can expect a challenge in Sunday’s heavyweight final. After all, it was only a year ago that Grad’s Soderglen Ranches team of Jim and Ben, teamstered by Pouso, set a new Stampede mark in the division by pulling a 13,100-pound sled the full 14 feet. Jim and Ben, tipping the scales at a combined 5,099 pounds, will be back in the ring Sunday, competing against Weinberger’s pair of Dan and Jesse, who weigh in at a combined 5,326 pounds.

The Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull made history on Saturday night, with a female teamster taking part for the first time. Priscilla Tames of Wibank, Sask., entered the fray with her two-horse team of Pearl and Tim, but the duo, supported by Ted and Enid Jansen, was not outfitted with special heavy horse cleats like the rest of the field, and finished ninth overall with a measured pull at 6,000 pounds.

This year’s Stampede Heavy Horse Pull, the richest horse pull in North America, has drawn teamsters from as far away asMichigan, Oregon, and Washington, with outfits primarily featuring Belgian and Percheron horsepower.

The heavyweight final, with teams tipping the scales at 3,501 pounds and more, closes out the Stampede’s three-night Heavy Horse Pull on Sunday, July 18 at 7 p.m. under the Big Top.

Heavy horses have been part of Calgary’s annual agricultural fair for 125 years, dating back to the Stampede’s predecessor, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. As a species, they’re the longest-running agricultural component of the Stampede and its predecessors, and the only livestock class consistently presented throughout that period.

CS Heavy Horse Pull Results

Kris and Spike, the two-horse Springbank Belgians outfit owned by Dennis Weinberger of Cochrane, Alta., show winning form in pulling a 10,100-pound sled the full 14 feet on Friday night during the lightweight division final of the Calgary Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull under the Big Top. Photo: Calgary Stampede

It was one of those did-you-know facts from the Calgary Stampede’s 2009 Heavy Horse Pull: Dennis Weinberger of Cochrane, Alta., was the bridesmaid in all three classes.

And, trust us, Weinberger was one of those who knew. Did he ever.

“Yeah, I realized it, and I wasn’t very happy. I was a very unhappy man,” said the owner and teamster of the Springbank Belgians outfit. “I had won at least one class in nine consecutive years. Last year, I got shut out. I went home and thought about it, and I thought, ‘You know what? I got complacent. And I paid for it.’

“So I said, ‘That’s it. If we’re goin’, we’re going to start training today, and we’re going to train for next year. We’re going to train as hard as we can, or we’re not goin’ at all.’ That was the plan the day after the Stampede ended last year.”

Well, 360-odd days of sweat and toil paid off in a big way Friday night, as the Stampede’s 2010 Heavy Horse Pull kicked off with the lightweight division final. Weinberger’s Springbank Belgians team of Spike and Kris, supported by Glover International Trucks, won the seven-team pull for a $3,000 winner’s cheque. The only team to successfully pull a 9,000-pound sled the full 14 feet, they also shouldered another 1,100 pounds just for show in front of a packed Big Top crowd.

Nicolas Pouso, the young Uruguayan teamster who works for Stan Grad’s Soderglen Ranches outfit from Airdrie, Alta., finished second. His two Jane Grad-supported Belgians, Roy and Red, came up just seven inches short in their bid to pull a 9,000-pound sled the full distance, ending up with a 157-inch pull and a reserve champion’s cheque for $2,500. Ron Sebastian of Lumsden, Sask., placed third, his Ted Jansen-supported team of Ben and Trip hauling the 9,000-pound sled 103 inches for a $1,500 pay day.

Pouso was pleased with his runner-up spot, in light of the fact that Soderglen Ranches – which owns the Stampede’s heavyweight record – has never fielded a lightweight team.

“I’m happy with the horses. They tried all they could,” said Pouso, originally from Mercedes, Uruguay. “They just couldn’t get a better footing in the dirt, and started stumbling. It was a good try.”

This year’s Stampede Heavy Horse Pull, the richest horse pull in North America, has drawn teamsters from as far away asMichigan, Oregon, and Washington, with outfits primarily featuring Belgian and Percheron horsepower.

Lightweight teams are the only draft-horse duos that consistently pull three times their weight; during Spike and Kris’s final run, the factor was an eye-popping 3.397.

The action continues Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. under the Big Top with the final of the middleweight division, whose teams weigh a combined 3,001 to 3,500 pounds. The middleweight final will feature the debut of the Stampede Heavy Horse Pull’s first female teamster, Priscilla Tames of Vibank, Sask.

The heavyweight final, with teams tipping the scales at 3,501 pounds and more, closes out the three-night show on Sunday, July 18 at 7 p.m. under the Big Top.

Heavy horses have been part of Calgary’s annual agricultural fair for 125 years, dating back to the Stampede’s predecessor, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. As a species, they’re the longest-running agricultural component of the Stampede and its predecessors, and the only livestock class consistently presented throughout that period.

Heavy Horse Pull Action

The president of the Saskatchewan Barrel Racing Association has started to think big the past couple of summers . . . really big. And as a result, she’s making her Calgary Stampede debut this weekend at the annual Heavy Horse Pull competition under the Big Top.

Teams from as far away as Washington, Oregon, and Michigan will be competing in the Calgary Stampede’s annual Heavy Horse Pull on Friday, July 16, Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18 under the Big Top. These gigantic horses, primarily Percherons and Belgians, can pull as much as three times their own body weight. Photo: Calgary Stampede

Tames, of Vibank, Sask., is the first female teamster in the history of the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull, having established her own Valhalla Horse Enterprises pulling team in 2009 after spending a couple of summers working for Jack Grad, also of Vibank, and setting the hook for his Bar G Bar Percherons pulling outfit. But she’s definitely no stranger to the equine species.

“It’s awesome. I’m having an absolute ball with this,” says Tames. “Anything I can do with a horse, I like to give it a try. I’ve jumped. I barrel race right now. I team rope. I’ve shown horses. I’ve been to Calgary for a 50/50 futurity. To try something new is always fun for me. I like challenges.”

Thursday night, at the Victoria Pavilion, the Heavy Horse Pull weekend officially kicked off with its ninth annual Team Auction, and all 22 entries found suitors as the auction pulled in a total of $39,300 in bids. The Springbank Belgian team of heavyweights owned by Dennis Weinberger of Cochrane, Alta., garnered the top bid, $4,100, from New West Truck Centres. Another Weinberger-owned Springbank Belgians team commanded the highest price in the middleweight division, at $2,300, from the Calgary Co-Operative Association Ltd. A team headed by Stan Grad’s Soderglen Ranches of Airdrie, Alta., and Randy Dodge of Albany, Ore., earned the top bid among lightweight rigs, at $2,300, from buyer Jane Grad.

This year’s Heavy Horse Pull has drawn rigs from as far away as Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, with teams primarily featuring Belgian and Percheron horsepower. Outfits compete in three classes based on the total weight of the two-horse team – lightweights from 2,400 to 3,000 pounds, middleweights from 3,001 to 3,500 pounds, and heavyweights tipping the scales at 3,501 pounds and up. The lightweights will kick things off Friday night, while the middleweights test their strength on Saturday and the heavyweights take centre stage on Sunday. The sled starts moving at 7 p.m. under the Big Top all three nights, as these brawny behemoths of the equine world pull as much as three times their own weight a distance of 14 feet.

Stan Grad’s Soderglen Ranches rig and its mammoth Belgian pulling duo of Jim and Ben, are back to defend their Stampede heavyweight title after setting an arena record in 2009 by pulling a 13,100-pound sled the full 14 feet. Bob McGowan of Lebanon, Ore., are hoping for a repeat in the middleweight division, while the lightweight division will see a new champion crowned.

Tames, who has pulled at Regina’s Agribition, will be trotting out her finest Percherons in the middleweight class on Saturday – Tim, a 10-year-old gelding weighing 1,736 pounds; and Pearl, a nine-year-old mare weighing 1,571 pounds.

“Last year, I pulled lights all year, but this year, I took off one of my older mares and replaced her with Tim, which puts us up in the middleweight class. No more training wheels – I’ve moved on to my two-wheeler, I guess,” Tames said with a laugh.

“I’m not in Calgary to win. I’m here to do my best. I mean, to win would be amazing,” added Tames, whose team earned $1,900 from Ted and Enid Jansen at Thursday’s auction. “But I’m coming in barefooted; my horses don’t have the special cleats. And I’ve only been pulling a year.”

Since it was established in 2002, the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull Team Auction has become an increasingly popular event for individual and corporate supporters, with attractive and affordable branding possibilities. The Heavy Horse Pull allows supporters a great opportunity at promotion, a unique venue for entertaining clients, and the chance to view some top-notch agricultural entertainment.

For successful bidders, the Heavy Horse Pull advertiser’s package includes passes to watch their teams during competition from a private VIP section under the Big Top, signage on the horses during competition, stall signage in the barns, and an exclusive party in the Victoria Pavilion alongside the horses after the main events.

“It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal with these horses,” said Bill Nelson, chair of the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Pull committee. “We’ll take your picture with them. We’ll tour you through the barns. They’ll go to your corporate functions. You come to the cocktail receptions every night and rub elbows with them.

“It’s an overall great Stampede experience at a very reasonable price,” added Nelson. “And the teamsters we get from all over North America are real first-class, entertaining characters.”

Heavy horses have been part of Calgary’s annual agricultural fair for 125 years, dating back to the Stampede’s predecessor, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. As a species, they’re the longest-running agricultural component of the Stampede and its predecessors, and the only livestock class consistently presented throughout that period.

Calgary Stampede’s World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition

When he drives a hitch, he’s still got the itch. And that’s why Brian Coleman’s third career win on Sunday afternoon at the Calgary Stampede’s World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition doesn’t feel old hat at all.

Brian Coleman of Didsbury, Alta., drives the Jackson Fork Ranch outfit of Bondurant, Wyo., to victory Sunday during the Calgary Stampede’s World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Calgary Stampede photo.

“I don’t think it ever could get old,” said Coleman, of Didsbury, Alta., the trainer and driver for the Jackson Fork Ranch outfit from Bondurant, Wyo. “To have a crowd like that in (the Pengrowth Saddledome), and the (Calgary Philharmonic) Orchestra, and the level of competition . . . pretty exciting. I can’t put it into words.”

Coleman also drove the Strawberry Lane Percherons rig of Oconomowoc, Wisc., to victory at the Stampede in 2002 and 2004.

Relative newcomers to the scene, the Jackson Fork Ranch crew snared their first World Six championship – and $10,000 winner’s cheque – against one of the toughest fields in event history on Sunday. Not only did the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition field 15 rigs, matching the most ever, but for the first time in most committee organizers’ memory, five wagons were called back to the Saddledome infield for a drive-off.

The Jackson Fork Ranch outfit of Bondurant, Wyo., a newcomer to the Calgary Stampede, won the World Champion Six Horse Hitch Competition on Sunday at the Pengrowth Saddledome, topping 14 other rigs from across North America. Calgary Stampede photo.

When the smoke cleared, Coleman’s Jackson Fork Ranch rig was declared the winner, while the Prins View Belgians of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., driven by Zephrin LaRiviere, were runners-up. Also in that drive-off were the Mark Messenger Memorial Hitch of Cheyenne, Wyo., the McLaughlin Clydes of Listowel, Ont., and the Rocky Bar Belgians of Esterhazy, Sask.

The Jackson Fork team of jet-black Percherons is also the first mare hitch to win the World Six, the highlight of the Stampede’s annual Heavy Horse Show.

“I would say that this year’s field equalled or bettered the quality of six-horse hitches that we’ve ever had here,” said Jess Debnam, past president of the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show committee. “That’s what this show does. People want to come to Calgary to compete, but they also come here because it is the Calgary Stampede, and they know the quality and level of competition is going to be equal to, or better than, any other show they go to.”

A panel of three judges rated Sunday’s 15 entries for conformation, presentation, driving and reinsmanship.

For the 11th straight year, Sunday’s Six Horse Hitch competition was accompanied by live music, courtesy of a full 38-member orchestra of musicians from the CPO, led by its new resident conductor, Melanie Leonard. Musical highlights included Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Strauss’s Radetzky March, Offenbach’s Can Can, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, and Bizet’s Les Toreadors.

The Jackson Fork Ranch folks only began showing hitches last year across the American midwest, and Sunday’s World Six was only the second show at which they’ve fielded a six – last weekend in Olds, Alta., being the first.

“We scoped a lot of top sales in the States, and knew individual breeders who had great animals available,” said Coleman. “I’ve got training programs set up for them . . . we have days where we work slow and heavy, and days where we’ll do cardio – lighter weights and longer distances.

“And we actually had two spares in today, because of a couple of injuries that left us without our most experienced players, so to speak. You have to be able to go to your back-up players. To have them come out and perform, they have to be at an equal conditioning level. You can’t leave them on the back burner, so to speak.”

The seeds of the Jackson Fork Ranch championship, in fact, were sown a year ago at the 2009 Stampede.

“The fellow who owns the hitch at Jackson Fork Ranch (J. Joseph Ricketts) was here last year. He’s a Percheron enthusiast, loves draft horses in a big way,” said Debnam. “He went home from Calgary, started putting animals and people together, and the culmination is a World Six Horse Hitch championship.”

The Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show sees Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons and Shires competing in more than 100 classes over four days. The affair wraps up on Monday, July 12, with breed Supreme Champions and the overall best in show crowned at 11 a.m. in the Saddledome. Classes include cart-drawn single horses, two-horse teams, three-horse unicorn hitches, and four- and six-horse hitches.

This year, entries have arrived from as far away as Eastern Canada, the American East Coast, the U.S. heartland, and the U.S. Pacific northwest, giving the Stampede’s Heavy Horse Show a true coast-to-coast flavour.

Heavy horses have been part of Calgary’s annual agricultural fair for 125 years, dating back to the Stampede’s predecessor, the Calgary Industrial Exhibition. They’re the longest-running agricultural component of the Stampede and its predecessors, and the only livestock class consistently presented throughout that period.

All-new Draft Horse Town

Open daily at the 2010 Stampede on Saddledome Lane, between the Pengrowth Saddledome and the Agriculture Building, Draft Horse Town features the “gentle giants” of the equine world — Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, and Shires — in all their majesty. Draft Horse Town offers Stampede visitors a slice of living history, plenty of hands-on activities and exhibits, and a close-up look at these magnificent beasts in action.

“Generally speaking, the public’s perception of draft horses is limited to Budweiser wagons and farm ploughs, but the reality is that they’ve done so much more,” says Dale Befus, a member of the Draft Horse Town council.

“Until 1939, the Canadian artillery was all horse-drawn. Road building took 12 horses on a plough. The basement for (Calgary’s historic) Palliser Hotel, as deep as it is now, was all done with horses,” adds Befus. “Anything done with a diesel engine today was all done with a horse.”

From July 9 to 18, visitors can help wheelwrights build wood-spoked wheels, observe blacksmiths shoeing horses and forging other items, enjoy live Western music, and take in a draft horse art exhibit.

Teamsters and exhibitors will demonstrate how they prepare their teams for competitions such as the Heavy Horse Show, which runs from July 9 to 12 at the Saddledome, and the Heavy Horse Pull, which goes from July 16 to 18 under the Big Top.

Test your own “horsepower” with the Incredi-pull, cool off under the spray of the pump wagon, and watch as a draft horse operates an ice-cream maker with a treadmill for a sweet treat. Climb up on a carriage, have your picture taken with one of these gentle giants, and make sure to visit the Heavy Horse Barns to meet these brawny beasts who’ve been known to tip the scales at 2,600 pounds.

“We wanted to make sure this was not a museum exhibit. We wanted to give people an authentic experience, and make it much more of a participatory event,” says Tim Lane, who’s also on the Draft Horse Town council.

“It’s one thing to have an appreciation for these magnificent horses, but it’s quite another when you get people to sit up on a stagecoach and put reins in their hands,” adds Lane. “They come away from that experience . . . changed, in a way. We wanted to be able to bottle that type of experience — for all the different facets of how draft horses have made an impact.”

Draft Horse Town exhibitors include the Military Museums, the Remington Carriage Museum, the Heavy Construction and Road Builders Historical Society of Canada, the Firefighters’ Museum, and the Bar U Ranch of Longview, Alta., which is credited with restocking Europe’s Percherons following the First World War.

A Lover of the Heavy Horse

Merle Gallant is featured in our May issue’s How We Ride Here. Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, where he and his dad maintained a farm and chored with a pair of heavy horses, Gallant missed the the gentle giants when he moved to Alberta in 2001.

He remembers, “I did not recognize or appreciate the skills and tradition I was so blessed to be a part of or how much I enjoyed them until I left my home.”

Soon after he purchased a pair from a farm in Saskatchewan and now shows and competes with several teams.

I hope you enjoy writer Jenn Council’s interview with Gallant. I really appreciate people who still have heavy horses, they hold a beauty so unlike the light horse. Unfortunately, as Gallant relates, the use of draft horses is a dying tradition and while I’ve never met a horseperson who isn’t awed by these animals, the logistics of keeping one is insurmountable for most of us.

For those of you who are interested, Gallant invites you to visit his Facebook page and relates: “I hope that people interested in horse pulls and draft breeds will take the time to contact me, I can be found on Facebook and can be e-mailed at merle.gallant@hotmail.com. In the meantime we will do all we can to preserve our horse’s history and traditions, as long as we continue with lots of work and lots of love we know our horses will give back. With a little luck we will be able to spread the word to the next generation.”

Well said.