The dynamic horse pulling duo of Terry Yoder and Chris Hatfield came up 41 inches short of setting yet another world record at the Hillsdale County Fair Tuesday, but they came through with their fifth consecutive Heavyweight Horse Pull National Championship nonetheless.
In a competitive field of 19 teams, including nine from Hillsdale County, Yoder and Hatfield’s team of horses Louie and Bob were the only tandem to successfully pull 4,400 pounds the required 27 feet, six inches.
Once they were officially the winners they decided to go for the jugular though, by attempting a world record pull of 4,850 pounds, 25 pounds more than the weight they pulled for a record at last year’s fair.
It would have been no surprise if a new mark was set, as the heavyweight world record has been set 33 times at the Hillsdale County fair since 1930. But despite a good push at the start Hatfield couldn’t quite get his horses to finish what they started, garnering a pull of 24 feet, one inch. He tried once more, but was forced to settle for another victory on the biggest stage in the sport.
Hatfield hails from Cromwell, Ky. and Yoder lives in Lake Panasoffkee, Fl. and Hatfield said the record would have been icing on the cake, but he was pleased with another national title.
“We hit a wall today, so maybe (our other) record will hold for a while. The one horse has been a little bit lame on me, and he’s been laid up all year because of an injury so he’s probably just a little rusty,” he said, noting that Louie was competing in his first competition of the season after battling through some complications. “I would have liked to have had another couple of weeks with Louie but he gave it all he had and in the end he won the pull, so I’m proud of him. It wasn’t a record, but when he got hurt back in January we didn’t think he’d even be here.”
Last year Bob paired with one of the horses who competed on Yoder and Hatfield’s other team Tuesday, but Hatfield said it isn’t unusual to change things up as the season goes on, especially considering the duo competes in nearly 50 events each year.
“It’s a guessing game — you’ve got to figure out who is feeling the best that day when you start out,” he said. “We’re just very fortunate and blessed to be here, and people don’t get the opportunity to have this happen this many years in a row. We couldn’t break our own record, but that’s alright too.”
Showcasing his talent at fairs all over the country is in Hatfield’s blood as he is a third-generation driver — one who likes to deflect the success he and Yoder have had to anyone but themselves.
“We have a lot of good help at home, it’s not just me,” he said. “There are three or four of us and everybody does the hard work and I’m just lucky enough to be the driver and kind of get the praise, you know. It’s a team effort though.”
When it comes to teams that might give Hatfield and Yoder a run for their money in the future, Jerald Keegan of Reading looks primed to possibly do just that.
His horses were aggressive all morning long, pulling the driver off his seat on several occasions. Keegan’s team nearly joined Hatfield and Yoder at the 4,400 pound marker, but came up just short, settling for second.
Tom and Mark Shaver took third, another Hatfield-Yoder team took fourth and a team owned by Scott Nesbitt and Bob Spafford took fifth.
Other county teams who got the locals excited included: two of Gene Sellers (Hillsdale) teams, which placed seventh and eighth overall; Ken and Tammy Cleland of Quincy earned 10th with their team; Dave Tonkel of Reading guided his team to a 12th-place finish; Cory and Bill Bump of Hillsdale placed 13th; Tom and Wyatt Brown of Jonesville took 15th, one spot ahead of Dave Rossman’s horses, another Jonesville team; Jerry Briner of Jonesville took 17th and the Haines brothers of Reading placed 19th.
Yoder and Hatfield took home $470 for first place and prize money was awarded all the way out to 15th, which was a $180 check.
Hatfield said he was impressed with some of the up-and-coming competitors, but he and Yoder would continue to keep giving the sport their all.
“We have some young horses back home coming on, because obviously they don’t last forever,” he said. “It’s just a lot of hard work, a lot of conditioning and good feed, and it’s a very expensive hobby.”
When asked what kind of attributes he looks for in competitive horse Hatfield sounded much like a college football coach headed on a recruiting trip.
“A big, good athlete, that’s what it is,” he said. “The horse has to be athletic and he’s got to want to pull, you can’t make him pull, he’s got to want to do it.”