Written 40 years ago when Aunt Katy was much younger.
County Fair time came early this year. The weather was hot, dry, and sunny, making it inviting for people to attend. Jos heard they were having horse-pulls so there was nothing for it but we had to go on that day.
Grandstand seats haven't improved any in the past years, but a cushion makes them bearable and there is such excitement that a little discomfort is hardly noticed. Jos once had a hauling team and entered them in the contests for several years. We know the hard work and training that goes into winning that blue ribbon.
There weren't as many teams this year as there have been. I recall when the eliminations took all day instead of three hours. One team in particular took my eye, a matched pair of dappled gray Percherons. Jos judged them to be at least 18 hands at their massive shoulders and the Young Man (Jos' nickname for an old friend who sat nearby) agreed. The horses faces were fine and intelligent with knowing eyes and sharp, perkie ears. Their dappled coats were spotless and they swished away flies with long, heavy white tails. Their manes hung so far down over their necks that they looked like chin-whiskers from the off side.
There was a matched pair of Belgians, too, with flowing tails and close cut manes. Their golden chestnut coats were streaked with sweat under the complex harness, but they tossed the green tassels and jingled the brass rings that trimmed them as though to deny the heat. When the Belgians pull, their short back legs dig deep and make them look almost a part of the flying earth.
There were also Clydesdales with their feathered, high stepping feet and smaller cross-bred animals who retained the power if not the pure bred lines of their ancestors. One lighter, unmatched span won the crowd with its dogged and effective pulls, and no flighty monkeyshines either. A good pair trots with a dancers pace into position, gives their handlers just time to hitch on, and then digs in to pull with every muscle. Sometimes, over stimulated by the crowd or perhaps reflecting their driver's nervousness, the team will bolt before being hitched.
The Young Man and Jos compared notes on the horses they had owned and opinions on the handling of the horses in the contest. They had raised mostly standard-bred and riding horses but both had spent many hours behind a plowing or logging team.
"Those driver's hands are twice the size of an ordinary man's and tough as shoe leather," the Young Man said. "Most of these teams come from logging camps and the oil fields but there are a few owned by local farmers who train them just for these contests. There's a fair size purse waiting for the winner today."
Above the grandstand noises rang the clarion call of one of the huge stallions awaiting his turn in the ring. Back from two or three others came their deep-voiced rumbling answers. Teams stood side by side, stamping away troublesome flies, munching a mouthful of dusty grass and nickering softly to each other. Visitors strolled cautiously behind the great rumps, calling to heedless children to walk carefully lest the huge hooves lash out at them. Most of the beasts are as gentle as they are large, but all are wary of strangers, loud noises, and quick movements.
Watching the horses leaning into their collars, hearing the strain and creak of the harness, and listening to the drivers calls, brought many memories back to me. Ours was a horse loving family and the Big Farm was famous for its fine animals. The Young Man leaned past Jos to ask if I'd ever seen a span like those Belgians, fully expecting me to agree that I had not. But I had, and better.
Grandpa had started breeding horses with a few standard-breds who's lines went back to the Darley Arabian. These are splendid trotters and have provided the main attraction at county fairs for generations.
As Uncle Bert (Ma's brother) grew up, he became one of those dedicated men who know horses by instinct and long study. He could gentle a young horse and school it to perfection.
While he was in the army during the Civil War, Uncle Bert discovered other breeds not common in our part of the country. Particularly he came to know and admire the Morgan and the Tennessee Walking Horse. About a year after the war, he took all his savings and made a trip to Tennessee, coming home with two brood mares in foal, who were descended from Black Allen, a famous stallion.
Ma used to tell how she and Aunt Mary were frightened by the Tennessees. These horses are all rhythm, it's what makes their running-walk so smooth. They not only pace but nod their heads, swing their ears, and click their teeth like castanets. Now a horse with twitching ears and snapping teeth usually means trouble and the girls were sure the two gentle mares were fierce and would prove unmanageable. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Their first colts provided the basis for a strain cross-bred with the Standards, that proved hardy, smooth gaited, and popular.
Uncle Bert still wasn't satisfied, so a few years later he bought a handsome Morgan stallion named Bay Justin after its color and the man who owned the original sire of this breed. There was great interest at the depot when Bay Justin arrived. As many of the family as could get there formed the inner circle around the loading ramp. Behind them stood neighbors and townsfolk, all of whom wanted to see what kind of "hoss" Bert Timmons had got now.
As the car door slid open, the crowd hushed so not to frighten the four legged stranger. Coaxing with a tender flow of strangely accented words could be heard accompanying the clatter of hoofs and nervous snortings of the cars chief occupant. Then in the opening appeared the great Bay. Eyes rolling wildly, he flung up his head almost lifting his human companion from his booted feet.
The stocky Yorkshireman was clad in a nondescript suit but his boots were mirror-like from much polishing. His cap was perched rakishly on grizzled red hair, his face as red as the hair and shiny as the boots. His arm was stretched to the utmost by the big bays tossing head for he held firmly to the birdle with his right hand while with his left he gently urged the horse forward with a steady pull on the rein.
Coaxing and crooning, the little man led the big horse down the ramp to stand, calmed by firm footing and the quietly admiring people around him. Pa and Uncle Bert looked the horse over critically. He was round barreled, more closely coupled and fuller of neck than the animals they knew. Bay was powerful with large, dark eyes that showed his intelligence. His pluck and staying power soon won them all and Bay sired many fine colts, all of which displayed his best characteristics.
The Yorkshireman remained with his beloved Bay and was a great help to Uncle Bert with all the horses. Every spring the fields of the Big Farm were playgrounds for gamboling colts and fillies. Then, as now, the men who watched knowingly from the fence rail repeated the yearly litany: "There'll be a go-er in that bunch for sure." And there always was or would be the next year.