Years ago when I was living in Connecticut, I made the statement that I would never live south of the Mason Dixon Line. If you had told me when I lived up north that one day I would attend a draft horse pull and coon mule jump, I would have squinted at you and said, “A what what?” My point is never say never.
I was invited to shoot video at the Southern National Draft Horse Pull and Coon Mule Jump in Raleigh back in February. This is an event that occurs on the first Friday in February each year during the Southern Farm Show at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Teams of horses and drivers come from all over the eastern part of the country for this event.
The event was my first time out with the new Canon T5i at a major happening where I was shooting video. It was also my first draft horse pull. For some reason, I have a knack for getting both myself and my camera into places where others may not be able to go to shoot. This happened at an event in Fenridge in Efland, North Carolina where Patricia Roberts the owner of the facility led me to the middle of the stadium course. On the 6th of February, I found myself on the arena floor, camera and tripod in hand to attempt to shoot my first draft horse pull.
I have seen big horses in my journeys through the horse world of the Carolina's. A horse named Quincy comes to mind, a Percheron thoroughbred cross who is an eventing horse that I met at The Carolina Horse Park in Southern Pines. The first time I saw this monster I was impressed. The top of his rear end was as tall as the top of my head and I am six foot two. The horses and mules in Raleigh stood no less in stature.
The line between courage and fear is razor thin and at times when I was standing in front of the draft horses my brain was arguing with it's self. The artistic side saying, stand still we're getting some awesome video here and the horses won't run you down, while the sensible side was telling me it was time to grab the camera and move. At times I was directly in front of the horses, staring at them as they came close enough to me to where I could have reached out and slapped them on the butt as they turned to circle away from the sled they had just pulled.
I have two hard rules when photographing horses. Wear a white shirt so the horses can see you and don't make any sudden movements that might startle them. It is that last rule that I had to follow since in my mind the worst thing a photographer can do in any situation is something that changes the natural flow of an event.
Some of these horses are so attuned to what they do that the clank of metal against metal when the hitch hits the sled is all they need to hear to get them to charge forward. The horses are so attuned to their task that there are times when the hitch misses the sled and the horses move forward taking their driver with them. A two hundred pound driver is no match for four thousand pounds of horse and it is interesting watching them as they get these behemoths under control and back to the sled. Other teams will stand steady as their driver gets them finely tuned to pull before he releases them to move forward. In many ways this sport is a balance of art and brute force. The men who drive these horses have skills that are as amazing as the raw power they control.
Images speak better than words so here is a link to the video with raw video footage of the event. There is no editing or commentary other than what you hear over the loud speaker. Think of it as being at the show without having to wait between pulls for the next team of horses to walk up to the sled. To address the answer to the question that many of you may ask, “Yes I was that close when the horses were coming at me.” There is also video of the Coon Mule Jump as well as some old horse drawn farming equipment. To paraphrase Dorthy in The Wizard Of Oz, “Toto we aren't in Connecticut anymore.”
Video by Mark Calvo
Photo by Tanja Hemric