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Love of equines inspires competitors in annual horse pull

ROME TOWNSHIP - The old saying is that the dog is man's best friend.

Some of the men who guided their teams of horses up and down the field at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds grandstand Tuesday afternoon just might disagree.

For these men, it is likely their best friend walks on hooves, not paws, and chews clover, not dog biscuits.

In taking part in the fair's annual horse pull, some of these men were carrying on a family tradition and keeping alive a part of our country's past: The friendship between man and horse.

George Fuller of Pedro said he has been coming to the horse pulls at the fair since, "he doesn't know when."

Fuller said part of what brings him is a sense of responsibility to the Lawrence County Draft Horse Association, of which he is a member. But he also comes to cherish a part of history that put man and horse in the field to work together, side by side.

"God made these beasts of burden to work in the field at the same pace as man. When you work with horses, there is no anxiety and no depression," he said.

"With machinery, the noise tends to speed up your nervous system and heart rate. With horses, you get to hear more of God's creation. With horses, you tend to think, 'well, if I don't get it done today, there's always another day.' But with machinery you tend to think, 'if I can just get this much more done.'"

Fuller said he uses horses on his farm not out of necessity but out of desire to keep these gentle giants of the field near him.

"I log with them when it's too muddy to use machines," he said. "I want to hold onto this part of the past. We've got to go into the future but still hold onto the past."

Like Fuller, Steve Payne, of Willow Wood, has been a horse enthusiast for many years. He is also a fan of the horse pull and in taking part, he is continuing a tradition he came about through his father, Floyd.

"We've been coming here since 1966," he said. "When I was little I was in 4-H. I brought steers and hogs to the fair. Now my three grandkids are doing it," he said with more than a touch of pride in his voice.

These days, Payne comes to the fair with Dick and Tom, his team of Belgians. He and Dick and Tom begin practicing for the horse pull each year in late winter

"every day of the week when it's not raining," Payne said.

That hard work paid off: Payne took home the first place award Tuesday in the heavyweight division.

His son, Shannon Payne, took second place with his pair of horses, another example of how this horse-centered tradition continues from generation to generation.

Chad Fulks and Dick Lang of Chesapeake took home first and second place awards, respectively, in the lightweight division.