Emma Byler and Casey Harriman (top) are congratulated by Farm Show equine event coordinators after their third-place win. Emma (background) keeps pace with Buck and Buzz as Casey drives the team towards a third-place finish in the Heavyweight Draft Horse pulling contest.
By Rick Hiduk / Photos courtesy PA Department of Agriculture
(originally published in the Sullivan County Review)
The Casey Harriman family returned to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg last week with a solid feeling that their Belgian draft horses had a good chance of winning the Heavyweight Division in the horse pull contests. Buck and Buzz, weighing in at a combined 5,100 pounds, had packed on a couple hundred pounds of muscle each from the previous season and were coming off a year of big wins.
“We’ve had a good year,” Casey Harriman remarked. “They’re doing well.” Buck, 9, and Buzz, 6, competed in eight states in 2021, racking up an impressive 20 wins at 30 venues. They took first place at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh in October.
For several years now, the Harrimans have had two stalls at the Farm Show Complex just inside the equine barn entrance. Their massive horses instantly garner the attention of visitors to the Farm Show who marvel at their soft hair and easygoing demeanor. Buzz, who had been purchased directly from an Amish farm, was still a bit feisty when he was last at the venue, but the trust his handlers have gained in him has calmed him down considerably.
Belgians are bred for pulling, and getting them to the winners’ circle takes not only time but a lot of patience. In addition to providing them with good nutrition and physical care, the mental and emotional well-being of the giant horses has to be calculated too. Harriman and his girlfriend, Emma Byler, explained in 2020 that “quitting” the horses at various stages of competition prevents burnout and lets them finish with what would be the equivalent of a “weightlifters high.”
When they aren’t traveling and pulling, Buck and Buzz enjoy the peacefulness of the Harriman farm in Nordmont. Casey does most of the physical work with the horses, while Emma handles the bulk of the brushing and keeping their stalls clean. They also have a pair of miniature ponies that have taken part in barrel racing and pulling contests. “They’re pretty rugged in both,” Casey remarked.
They were joined at the Farm Show by Casey’s mom and dad, daughter Payton, a niece, and able farmhand Josh Stubs. The team was confident that the additional weight and strength of the horses would push them closer to the top of the heap. Casey noted that the mindset of the pair has steadily improved as well. “Buzz has matured quite a lot,” he stated, “and they’ve learned how to pull those bigger loads better.”
Part of their pre-game strategy that a couple of the other handlers also employed was to take the horses outside the Complex for a breath of fresh air and to cool them down. “They’re used being in a cold barn with blankets on,” Emma explained. Then it was time to harness the team and link up their pulling chains before leading them to the arena.
Three teams, including the Harrimans, made it to the seventh round, pulling 10,850 pound sleds as country music blared over the speakers and a stadium full of fans cheered them on. Though Buck and Buzz made it to the final round, they came up short in their pull behind a team driven by Scott Brown of Acme, Westmoreland County, and a pair of draft horses from Ridgway, Elk County, owned by Michael Buhler. Scott Brown had finished second in 2020, behind his brother Charlie Brown when the Buhler team finished in third place. Charlie Brown finished in fifth-place this year.
“I got a little nervous and let the horses down,” Casey conceded after quitting the horses a little too soon. “I should have let them pull a little harder to save some of their energy for the third hook, and Buck wasn’t ready to pull. I was more upset with myself.”
Overall, Team Harriman was still rightfully proud of their efforts and the results. “Third place at the Farm Show is pretty respectable,” said Casey, who always has his sights on the Brown brothers. Of nosing Charlie Brown out of the top three, he said, “I was satisfied with that. I’m a winner and I like to win.”
After a break in their schedules for the remainder of January, Casey and Emma will load the horses into the trailer for a trip to Florida. In a sense, it is a vacation, but they will take part in seven different pulls between Feb. 5 and 21, including the National Championship of the Southern Draft Horse Association to be held at Silo Oaks Farm in Sumterville.
Photo by Rick Hiduk
Emma Byler (left) and Casey Harriman relax with Buck prior to competition.