Dynamic Duos 4

Equine Athletes Move Tons at Draper Days Horse Pull

There’s power and then there’s horsepower.

Horsepower is Dean and Red, two magnificent Belgian draft horses, hooked to a sled loaded down with over seven tons—and pulling that load nine and a half feet.

“I don’t think anyone can imagine the strength these athletes have until they actually come and see them at a pull,” says Joe McKee, the Belgians’ owner.

McKee and his two horse teams—middleweights Dean and Red and heavyweights Jess and Billy—will show their power and prowess at the free Draper Days Horse Pull on Saturday, July 16 at 7 p.m. at the Andy Ballard Equestrian Center.

Horse pulling has been in McKee’s family since his grandfather’s day. He started working horses at 10 and has participated in the Draper horse pull for decades.  “When I was a kid we used to farm with these horses,” he says. “But we don’t do that much anymore.”

Today his draft horses are athletes, training six days a week. McKee brings his teams to 20 horse pulls a year, May through October. And they love to pull. “That’s what they are made to do,” he says.

Helping train the horses is 25-year-old Justin Palmer. His father, Darin Palmer, partners with McKee at many pulls. The younger Palmer knows he is “pretty spoiled” working outside with beautiful animals and particularly enjoys seeing the winning results of their training.

But, he says, it’s a full-time and physically demanding job preparing for competition. What makes a winning team, he and McKee agree, is a well-planned training and feed program.

Down in Palmer’s South Jordan pasture, Palmer works several hours daily with each team, favoring cross training methods. He’ll jog the horses to build endurance and lung capacity, then, every other day, practice pulling several thousand pounds to build muscle.

During training, it’s an all-you-can-eat hay buffet. Heavyweights consume a bale of hay a day, plus seven gallons of grain, which provides protein and vitamins.

On their time off, the horses relax, acting much like oversized pets who just want to “hang out with ya,” says Palmer. That’s a sharp contrast to competition day, when the crowd quiets and the McKee/Palmer team attempts to fasten the two-ton horse team—adrenaline flowing, heads bowed, nostrils flared—to the sled.

If it weren’t for horse pulls, McKee believes these draft animals would fade away, since most farmers, except the Amish, use tractors. Thankfully, the horse pull at Draper Days is going strong and gives modern-day folk a chance to witness the power of the animals, who a century ago, cleared, plowed, and built this country.

As McKee says, “We’re keeping a heritage going.”