Young children walk on train tracks crowded with families, balancing on the silver rails. People dressed in jeans and cowboy boots sit on lawn chairs sipping White Claws and Miller High Life beers. It’s noisy with the sound of people chatting, parents calling their kids, and cars honking at pedestrians crossing the street.
Suddenly he becomes silent. There is the rattle of chains, then the dull sound of hooves pounding the ground. A whistle sounds in the air and the big horses are pulled to a standstill. The chatter continues as the audience applauds.
“It’s my sweet little version of the Kentucky Derby,” Fountain resident Martha Alberts said.
Fountain’s 60th annual horse draw returned this Sunday after being canceled two years in a row due to COVID-19. The event used to take place on a Saturday, but this year Hawkins pulled his horse on a Saturday, pushing Fountain’s to Sunday.
“It was a blessing,” said Denice Leonard, president of the Fountain Area Chamber of Commerce.
Many people came to the event from across the state and country. With the event taking place on Sunday, these people have a full day to travel and settle in, Leonard said. Many attendees were just thrilled to see the event return.
“I missed it for almost two years,” said volunteer Kathy Sworenson. “We are proud of it, it means everything to the community.”
Families were seated on lawn chairs, truck beds and in the grass. While some participated in the multiple raffles and bought food from the fire department and the bake sale, others came just to watch the horses.
“It’s amazing, we can’t wait to be there,” said Kristen O’Leary, who was only there for the horses. “It’s a really cool community event.”
O’Leary sat criss-crossed in the grass with her husband, Matthew, each of them bouncing a baby in her lap. The family was happy to see the event return and waited all day for it to start so they could sit down and just enjoy nature.
“It’s just amazing to see these horses and their strength,” said Judy Owen of Ludington, who was in attendance with her husband, Devon, and the rest of her family. She admired the free raffle for children and the camaraderie of the people of Fountain.
Across the street, there were raffles and a bake sale inside the Fountain Area Fire Department garage. There was a quilt and a 50/50 raffle for everyone, but there were also several free raffle baskets for the kids. There were seven tables full of baked goods and one table for t-shirts and hats, but all were mostly sold out within the first two hours of the event.
There was also a raffle for 60th anniversary specialty cornhole boards in front of the fire department building. All proceeds will go to next year’s horse draw.
On the other side of the train tracks were other white tents filled with prizes. The Citizens Sportmens Club had its own tent with a separate raffle for adults and children. This year’s adult prize caused a stir among attendees: a cart full of booze, plants and gardening supplies.
Most of the money the club raised at the event will go towards reimbursing what it spent on prize money, but it is accepting additional donations to fund a disabled ramp it plans to build in the club building. The group said horse pulling is very important to the Fountain community.
“We don’t have Mardi Gras,” said club secretary Sandy Larr. “We have Horse Pull.”
Also across the tracks was the Fountain Area Fire Department which served hot dogs, brats and drinks. According to fire chief Jeremy Goble, the group did not have a break from serving people for the first three hours.
“We had a very good turnout,” he said.
The money earned in this tent will be used to fund the fire department.
For many families, the horse draw is a must-attend event every year. There was no shortage of people participating this year after the two-year hiatus, as there were over 1,500 attendees.
The Alberts family have been coming to the event since the 70s, with three generations of the family this year.
“It’s the purest Americana,” said Martha Alberts, sitting in a red lawn chair next to her husband and father.
They participated in all aspects of the event, except for betting on the horses. In the future, she would even like to sponsor the event with the family business Alberts Electrical, because “it is an important event to support”.
This year’s horse draw was led by Dewayne Leonard, who took over after the death of his brother in December. He showed immense gratitude to the multitude of volunteers and donors present at the event.
“I want to personally thank everyone who donated,” he said. “Thank you all.
“The community needed it.
Denice Leonard showed similar gratitude for the volunteers as she choked on discussing them.
“Without the volunteers, we couldn’t have done it,” she says.
Next year, the Fountain Area Chamber of Commerce will be running the event as they want to focus on building a better community, “bringing it together”.
“We’re bringing a small town back to a small town,” Leonard said.
The chamber’s first step is to raise banners along the main street. Last week, 12 banners depicting horses were placed on lampposts along the road, but the chamber is launching a campaign for families and local businesses to sponsor banners featuring images of the community and local businesses at the square.
As the clouds began to roll in, the winning teams were announced. The horses, drenched in sweat and water, were led by their owners to claim first, second and third place trophies.
Initially, there were 13 teams. In the end, three teams shot 13,500 pounds, with the winner decided by whoever shot the farthest. First place was Lenny Hughes, second was Eric Thompson and third was Ben Reed.