The Tunbridge World’s Fair
Since I can remember, my favorite activity at a country fair has been the horse pulling. I enjoy pulling of all types – tractor, oxen, and horse – but the teams of draft horses have always been the ones that lure me to the arena.
Each fall, when the Tunbridge Fair comes to town, I feel the pull, so to speak. I look at the schedule of events, even though I already know that the horse pulling is always on Friday afternoon. I tell Marion that I’d like to go, but, in most years, I rarely make it down to the fair. We’re usually too busy with the harvest or the long list of things that need to be completed before the snows fly.
This year, summer temperatures have continued well into September. The 80-degree days have tempered the urgency normally associated with the arrival of crisp autumn air. There is still plenty of time to finish the chores, I convince myself. I’m off to the fair.
Coasting into the village on my bicycle, I easily slipped past the jammed traffic on Route 110. (Our normally very quiet village draws thousands from all over the region during the four days of the fair.) Once inside the gate, I quickly made my way through the midway en route to the pulling arena.
On the backside of the arena, the teams await.
The exterior paddock offers a colorful glimpse at the cast – the horses and their handlers – waiting for their turn on the main stage.
Inside the building, the bleachers are filled, mostly with old-timers, mostly locals, who’ve been drawn, as have I, to a competition with strong roots in our working landscapes.
In each round of the contest, a team has the opportunity to make three hitches (pulls) of the stone boat within a 5-minute period (with the clock stopped during the time it takes to return the boat to its starting position).
The teams enter the ring and make their way to the stone boat along a circular path. The driver then backs the pair to the hitch. With every step back, the team is twitching with readiness to pull. The “evener men,” one on each side, handle the hitch.
I’m in awe of the athleticism of these horses.
As soon as the team hears the hitch drop on the hook there is an explosive burst of forward drive as these magnificent animals attempt to drag the load for the qualifying distance in order to advance to the next round.
I so enjoyed the challenge of capturing images of the pulls that, by the end of the event, I had no idea who had won. When the pulling was over I lingered in the back of the arena until the horses had left.
From there, I took a moment to stroll down the midway before heading to the livestock show ring.
I caught the tail end of an oxen and steer showing and snapped a quick shot or two of Dick Barnaby after he’d taken second place with his team.
For those who bring their animals to the fair to show, there is a community that comes together annually in the livestock buildings where the owners tend their animals and catch up with each other while looking forward to an evening of celebration at the fair.
For most of the kids who were tending to chores or playing with each other in the barns, it’s the only life they’ve known. Whether assisting with a birth (as was the case with one calf that was born at the fair this year) or simply leaning against a flank and playing with a tail, it’s a lifestyle that I’m hopeful that will continue for a long time to come.