Maritime Ox Pulling competition organizers are encouraged by the emergence of young teamsters. Now the teamsters’ attention turns to winter training for next season.
DIGBY, N.S. – Sounds of cattle lowing, bells clinking and teamsters shouting directions filled the air at the Digby County Exhibition Grounds on Saturday.
The final event of the Maritime Ox Pulling 2021 season was underway
“Ox pulling is popular around here,” said Darren Watkins, president of the Maritime Ox Pulling Association. “We have spring pulls on weekends from May to mid-July. Then the exhibitions take over. After that we have day pulls, like this one, in the fall.”
The idea the competition is for a team of oxen to pull an increasingly heavy load of 200-pound (91-kilogram) concrete slabs called blocks. (The competition uses imperial measurements). The blocks are placed on a metal toboggan called a drag, which is fastened to the team of oxen.
The teamster guides and pulls the team, shouting instructions and encouraging the animals to pull the weight three feet (0.9 metres). More weight is added, and the team pulls the drag another three feet. This continues up the length of the 100-foot (31-metre) track. The weight the oxen pull is divided by the team’s weight to determines how well they have done.
The event is divided into four categories – lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight, and extra heavyweight. The combined weight of the two oxen in the team determines the category in which they will compete. There were 40 teams at this ox pull.
“Today, there are seven or eight teams in each category,” Watkins said. “There are some promising young fellas in the lightweights.”
Three new teamsters in the lightweight category captured the audience’s attention.
Trenton Patterson from Bear River has been working with oxen for three years. He began pulling last year and competed in events this year.
“I’m learning, and they’re learning. We’re learning together,” he explained.
Patterson elaborated that other teamsters in the Maritime Ox Pulling Association are helping him learn the craft.
“I don’t come from an agricultural family,” Patterson said. “I liked coming to the ox-pull at the Ex as a kid. After college. I sold my four-wheeler and bought these two steers. My best decision.”
Patterson’s team weighs 726 kilograms. They did him proud, pulling 1,633 kilograms – more than twice their own weight. They placed sixth in today’s competition.
“They’re not really competitions,” said Austin Gillis of Clementsvale. “We help each other. It’s more like having fun with each other than competing.”
“I’ve been in the ring since I was nine, but I’ve been around oxen forever,” explained Gillis, a third-generation teamster.
The 16-year-old kept his 776-kilogram team under control, talking with them outside the arena while they waited their turn, patting them, rubbing their noses and generally keeping them calm. That attention served him well when they were in the arena. The oxen willingly followed his instructions, pulling 2,087 kilograms. That gained them a first place in the lightweight category, pulling more than two-and-a-half times their own weight.
Colton Keddy from Nictaux returned to ox pulling after a five-year hiatus.
“Yep, I’m back in the game this year.” he said. “Glad to be back.”
Keddy’s team was the lightest in today’s competition, weighing in at 626 kilograms. This team pulled 1,452 kilograms, placing fourth in Saturday’s competition. “It just takes a bit to get them used to it.” he said. “They’re pretty good, for only four or five months of training.”
Now that the ox pulling season is over, the ox teams and their teamsters will rest for a couple of months before the winter training routine begins.
“You have to be inventive for winter training” said Cheryl Robbins, a former prize-winning teamster. “We used to make a track between the barn and the house. The oxen would pull tires, or blocks of wood, or anything heavy that we could find.”
Behind her, Gillis nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, so we’ll be ready at the first ox pull in the spring.”