COLUMBIA — With pricked ears and a prance in their step, Spud and George eagerly approach the sled weighted down with 55 cinder blocks, weighing about 40 pounds each.
Both measuring under three feet tall, they focus on the task at hand: pulling the sled carrying four and a half times their combined body weight a distance of 6 feet.
Spud, 7, and George, 5, are both miniature horses and were participants in Tuesday evening's pony pull at the Boone County Fair.
Floyd Howell of West Plains, a 60-year veteran of pulling, owns the pair. He has pulled with every size, from minis to draft horses.
He likes the minis because "they're a lot less work than the big draft horses," Howell said.
Like draft horse pulls, the goal at a pony pull is to pull the most weight the farthest. To compensate for the ponies' different weights, each pony is weighed and then the pair pulls a percentage of their combined weight.
The teams have three tries to pull the sled 6 feet, with each round of pulling increasing in weight.
Vocal encouragement and tension on the driving lines are the only cues these drivers can use to communicate with their horses.
Starting off at 150 percent of the pair's combined weight, all 14 teams Tuesday evening pulled the sled the full 6 feet with ease.
"Just like a weight lifter, you don't start out with the heaviest weight," said Rich Helton, who organized and participated in Tuesday's competition.
The weights increased by 50 percent increments, with the final pulls in round seven at 450 percent, reaching weights over 2,200 pounds.
Seth Lovan, 16, of Dora pulled his way to first place with a team he's only had for two weeks.
Butch and Curley, both 4-year-old black minis, pulled more than 1,800 pounds 62.75 inches to secure their victory.
"It's our first pull (with this team)," said a grinning Lovan, though he has been competing in pulls alongside his grandfather for two years.
Spud and George, driven by Floyd Howell's nephew Jack Howell, pulled more than 2,200 pounds 45.5 inches and placed fifth.
The Howells are hoping for better results when they compete at the Missouri State Fair in August.