COLUMBIA — The sounds of a tractor running and harnesses clanking were the only ones in the arena as a team of miniature horses walked to be hitched to a sled piled with cinder blocks.
The horses pranced in place eagerly until the trainer shouted and they burst forward, dragging the sled behind them.
"All the way for Rex," the announcer called. "Add a half for Doug. Rich on deck."
The horses done with their round, a tractor pulled the sled back to its starting position as men placed another half cinder block on.
The Boone County Fair held its annual pony pull competition on Wednesday. Nine teams of two ponies were hitched to a sled with cinder blocks and given three tries to pull the sled six feet.
The first place winner was Lowell Lovan, whose team pulled four times their own weight for 65 inches.
Rex Bell, from Cuba, Mo., with his team of 7-year-old miniature horses Lee and Bob, took sixth. Bell has been pulling since 1961. A family tradition for him, he inherited pony pulling from his father and passed it on to his son. His team of Lee and Bob has been pulling for three years.
The horses are trained in pulling for six months to a year. It is crucial not to rush them, though.
"If you push them you will never have anything good," Bell said.
The horses get their own custom harnesses and special shoes with spikes on the heel and toe for traction, Bell said. He made his horses' harnesses himself.
Another competitor, Joe White from Renick, came in ninth with his team Tony, 6, and Chester, 7. White has competed since 1952 and his team has been together for two years.
White said he grew up with horses and has always been interested in pony pulling. Since starting, he's had so many memorable experiences he can't pin down just one.
White and his team have entered six competitions including this one, and won four. Besides competing, White has also raised, trained, sold and traded horses for years.
Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.