Horse pulling is an exciting sport in which either an individual horse or a team of horses pull a heavy object a predetermined distance. The winner in horse pulling is the horse or team that pulls the heaviest amount of weight. Draft horses are used in horse pulling because of their massive size and strength.


Horse pulling originated on rural farms as a necessary aspect in farm life. Farmers were able to harness their draft horses to pull whatever heavy object they needed to move. In typical competitive spirit, some farmers began to challenge one another to determine who has a strong horse. Stone boats or logs were most often used as the pulling object. The horses that pulled the most weight were victorious. As these pulling competitions began to garner attention, competitions were organized.

Draft Horses

Draft horses are well-suited for horse pulling because of their strength. There are a variety of breeds of draft horses, but those most often used in horse pulling competitions are Belgian horses. Belgian horses are among the heaviest draft horses, generally weighting 2,000 pounds or more. The body of a Belgian draft horse is thick and muscular. The overall appearance of a Belgian draft horse is a very stocky and compact build. Belgian horses, like all draft horses, have a calm disposition. Draft horses are generally agreeable and are not high-spirited like warm-blooded breeds.

Draft horses were at their peak during the industrial revolution, when demand for goods was high and the best way to transport those goods was by horse. Teams of tough and strong draft horses carried great amounts of weight across long distances. Draft horses are still used to pull ploughs in Amish communities.

Loggers are returning to the use of the draft horses in areas where they must log selectively for environmental reasons. The horses are able to get in and pull the logs out while causing less damage to the natural surroundings. The pulling strength of draft horses is both utilitarian and entertaining, particularly in the sport of horse pulling.

Pulling Mechanisms

Horse pulling competitions use either a stone boat or a dynamometer to determine which horses can pull the most weight. The dynamometer was invented after the first World War by Professor E. V. Collins. Collins, working out of Iowa State, sought to test the pulling ability of horses. The dynamometer uses variable weights to determine the strength of the horses. The horses use resistance to pull the dynamometer. When the horses push on their collars, the dynamometer is moved forward.

The stone boat is the weighted object used in early horse pulling. The stone boat or weighted sled is a friction pull in contrast to the resistance pull of the dynamometer. Due to the differing friction on the ground, the actual weight pulled can vary depending on the amount of friction on the ground.

Both the dynamometer and the stone boat are in use today in horse pulling competitions. Some competitors prefer the stone boat due to the rich heritage. Other believe that the stone boat is a more accurate test as it is visually the same dead weight needed to be pulled. Other pullers believe that the dynamometer is the more accurate portrayal of how much weight each team can pull because the resistance is the same for each team and friction does not play as crucial as role as the stone boat pull.

Rules and Regulations

Most teams begin with 1500 pounds. Specific rules vary depending on the location of the horse pulling competition. The distance the horses must pull the weight is dependent on the specific rules of the location. One common distance is 27 feet 6 inches (838cm). This distance stems from a scientific calculation stating that horses stopped pulling at maximum power at that specific distance. Other leagues and competitions may use 20 feet (610cm), 15 feet (457cm) or 12 feet (366cm).

In many competitions, horses are given three pulls at the weighted object. In some leagues, the distance of the three pulls are added together and if the distance is reach, the team is eligible to move on. In other leagues, teams have three chances to pull the weight the specified distance all in one pull. Some places incorporate a time limit in which the pulls must be completed.

Safety of Horses

All horse pulls incorporate safety precautions to protect the horses. Pulls will organize competitors into weight classes. The weight classes determine which horses pull which weights in order to avoid over-straining the horses.

Draft horses must be trained for pulling competitions to ensure their muscles and ligaments can handle the strain. Many horse pulling competitors are trained to pull on a regular basis. Comparable to weight-lifting by athletes, this keeps the horses and strong and fit. Pulling horses must also have a healthy diet to keep them fit. Draft horses need oats for energy and vitamins and minerals for endurance. Hay with protein and alfalfa is also helpful for draft horses.

Tack and Equipment

In terms of tack and equipment, a good fitting harness, collar and bridle are the most important factors in horse pulling. Because the horses are pulling such large amounts of weight, their equipment must be fitted perfectly so that the weight is pulled from the right places. An ill-fitting harness can lead to serious injury for a horse. Additionally, every horse is different so equipment fitted for one horse must be carefully refitted for another. The collar and pad fit around the horse’s neck. Each horse pulling horse also wears a harness and a bridle.

Horse Pulling in Australia

Horse pulling is a popular aspect of agriculture shows in Australia. These draft horse shows will often have multiple competitions to showcase the talents unique to the gentle giants known as draft horses. Some of these shows will include driving competitions where teams of draft horses pull a heavy wagon or cart, as well as long reining, log snigging or ploughing. The massive and strong draft horses never cease to amaze the crowd of spectators that come out to watch these competitions.

Horse pulling is a tradition popular in many countries, but particularly still in fashion in the United States, Canada and Australia. Horse pulling tests the sheer power and force of magnificent and sturdy beasts. Draft horses are beautiful to watch. Owners watch with pride as their team defeats the others, pulling thousands of pounds in weight. After the competitions, the horses will proudly strut around the arena, impressed with their own ability to dig forward and move the massive weight.