HARRISBURG, PA — Three generations arrived at the Pennsylvania Farm Show on Monday, Jan. 6 to assist a 12 year old boy while he competed for the first time with his team of miniature horses in the horse pulls. After unloading the supplies in subzero temperatures, Dale Long stood in line with all of the adults as the miniature horses were measured to determine their classification. Long waited his turn to learn that his team, Doc and Dan, were placed in the 34 inch miniature horse division.
Three generations were present to assist the 7th grader at the 98th annual Farm Show. Curt, Dale’s father and Norman, Dale’s grandfather, checked over his harness to make sure all of the equipment was ready for the pull. Josephine and Jayme, Dale’s grandmother and sister were also in attendance for moral support.
The father and son team was the 4th to pull in his group of 10 drivers. As Long backed his minis away from the wall, there was a slight nervousness to his expression. Doc, a chubby brown and white paint, and Dan, a well suited matching gray mini, approached the sled with a quiet, yet workmanlike demeanor. After Curt attached the hitch, the Cambria County youth kissed to his team and they pulled the 800 pound empty sled without much effort.
As Long was driving his team back to the wall, his subtle nervous look was now replaced with a big smile and a well deserved pat on the back from his father. The team continued to pull well at the first added weight which was 1,100 pounds. Their third pull was at 1,400 pounds and at the first attempt the minis did not make a full pull of 10 feet. At this point, the youth had the choice of performing a second pull or unhitching and trying again later. Long made the decision to stay hitched. He backed his horses and asked them to hit it again. This time his minis pulled the 1,400 pound weighted sled to a full pull.
In the next round, the sled was loaded with 1,700 pounds. Although the three teams before him pulled well, Long knew his minis were really going to be working hard to attain a maximum pull. His first attempt did not meet the 10 foot pull and he decided to give his minis a break. They unhitched and waited until the rest competed. After a few other teams did not make the full pull, it was once again his turn. The team of three D’s — Dale, Doc and Dan — put all of their effort and heart into this final pull and unfortunately the weight was just too much but they did manage to pull the sled seven inches.
Although his pulling was over, it was now a waiting game for the Longs to see where the young driver would end up placing. After another round of added weight, the final group of minis was not able to pull the full weight. Once the final scores were compiled, the Forest Hills Middle School student finished in a tie with another team who also pulled 7 inches and the tie breaker was determined by the next longest length of pull at 1,700 pounds. Dale’s attempt was 2 inches and the other driver’s pull was longer so this placed him in 7th at the competition. The 5th place horse pulled 9 inches at this weight so he was only 3 inches away from top five.
The 4-H member was elated with his accomplishment but the best was yet to come. In each division, there was a special teamster award for the best team comprised of the driver, hitch person and how mannerly and how well the miniature horses pulled. Along with the click of the microphone, the announcer stated that the winner of the teamster award for the 34 inch miniature horse pull division was Dale Long. The crowd cheered on the judge’s pick and a loud outbreak of clapping occurred as the youth walked over to the judge’s table to receive his two embroidered miniature horse blankets.
“It was amazing to see how well Doc and Dan performed knowing how far they have come with all of the countless hours that Dale practiced. At first when they were hitched to a 2 x 10 board, the minis just stopped completely. Then once they got comfortable with that, we slowly started pulling smaller logs, then larger ones and then we started adding weight. Although my son did all of the work, it was a proud moment watching him competing with the adults,” explained Curt. “Looking back, I really enjoyed spending time with him in the fields and helping him with something that he is passionate about,” he added.
Although this may have been Dale’s first horse pull, he has traveled to the Farm Show in the past with his family to watch his uncle, Ray Long, compete in the draft horse competition. Dale certainly follows his family’s passion and knowledge in teaching horses to pull. It must run in their blood because his uncle also has won the teamster award at the Farm Show. This three generation farm family knows how to work together and train for horse pulling whether it is a 350 pound miniature or a 2,000 pound draft horse.