WINDSOR — The crowd eagerly awaiting the start of the Windsor Fair’s annual horse-pulling contest enjoyed a group chuckle Monday as the first “entrant” in the contest strode into the arena and headed for the competition sled, which waited at the opposite end of the arena, stacked high with 7,600 pounds of solid blocks.

Expecting to see one of the teams of massive, muscled Belgian draft horses get strapped to the sled and pull it through the dirt, spectators instead watched as Buddy and BJ, two miniature horses, pulled their handlers, Ben and Nicole LaPointe of Greene, around the ring on a red three-wheeled cart that looked suspiciously like a converted riding lawnmower.

“They can pull quite a bit – probably double their weight, but they’re not bred for that,” Ben LaPointe said of the minis, which made a loop around the pulling arena and then trotted off without ever being strapped to the sled. “In the winter they pull a sleigh. We can pull five or six kids.”

Buddy, BJ and the LaPointes left the serious weight-pulling to the professionals, such as Bub Pierce of Windsor. He drove Pete and Wendell, two Belgians weighing nearly 4,500 pounds altogether, for McGee Farms of West Gardiner.

Pierce has been pulling horses for some 30 years – first as a hobby, now as an occupation.

“I love it. It’s like every day is Saturday,” he said. “I just like working with animals.”

Taking top honors Monday – the fair’s last day – in the Merle Vanner Memorial Trophy pull were Belgians Champagne and Smith, led by Dan Smith of Cummington, Mass.

Smith said he’s been coming to the Windsor Fair to compete for the past eight years.

“You have to work them every day, exercise them to keep them in pulling shape,” Smith said, describing what it takes to have a winning pulling team.

Fair President Tom Foster said attendance for the fair’s run should “come close to 120,000.”

Revenue and attendance were hurt by Tropical Storm Irene. The storm forced cancellation of the scheduled opening day, which typically draws 10,000 to 12,000 people and $40,000 in gross receipts.

Foster said attendance from Tuesday to Saturday was up significantly from last year, helping to make up for the missed opening day and a slow Monday as the fair got set up after the storm passed.

“That hurt,” Foster said of the slow start, “but we had record days (Tuesday to Saturday). It won’t make up the revenue, especially since we didn’t have the harness racing on opening day, but attendance will come awfully close” to matching prior years’ attendance.

Fair organizers hope to start a fundraising campaign soon for a proposed Windsor Fair Agricultural Education Barn, Foster said. The barn would be a permanent building for use by various groups year-round. It would be located where the Old MacDonald’s Farm petting zoo is now, with the purpose of educating people about farming.

“It’s important to educate our kids, and everybody else, as to what farming is all about,” Foster said.

The education barn, which will have its own fundraising campaign and nonprofit organization, is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million.

Windsor Fair is the state’s second-largest agricultural fair, after the one in Fryeburg. The nearby Litchfield Fair starts Friday.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at: [email protected]