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.
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.