Horsing Around: Pony pulls are family affair for cousins at N.D. Winter Show

Valley City, N.D. (January 27, 2020) – Some of the littlest animals and people, at the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City will exhibit the biggest pull.

The pony pulling contest, held on Thursday, March 5 at 10 a.m., will feature ponies pulling up to three to four times their body weight.

And a few of those ponies’ owners are little themselves.

Carly and Ty Wolf and their cousins, Emma, Grady and Tucker Bock, all of New England, N.D., have done the pony pulling at the Winter Show for the last two years and they’ll be back for it again this year.

The kids, who range in age from ten to sixteen, got their start through their mothers’ dad, Mike Thorstenson. Thorstenson, also of New England, did horse pulling for nearly fifty years before switching over to pony pulling a few years ago.

A horse or pony pull involves a team of horses or ponies, hitched together with harnesses, pulling a skid with weight on it. The team that pulls the most weight the farthest wins.

It was at the Winter Show three years ago, when the cousins got their start.

At Grandpa Mike’s request, Ty and Grady came into the arena to help him during the pull.

That summer, Thorstenson took the grandkids along to Kansas to buy a team of ponies, and “when he told Carly (who was nine years old) that one of the ponies was hers, it was all downhill,” laughed Shelly Wolf, Carly and Ty’s mom and Thorstenson’s daughter.

“It snowballed from there,” said Jill Bock, mother of Emma, Grady and Tucker, and Thorstenson’s second daughter. “They went (to Kansas) for a team and came back with more.”

Now each child owns a team and has pulled at the Winter Show.

The kids, plus grandpa, spend at least an hour or two each night, in the summer, working with their ponies. They feed and exercise them, trotting them to build up endurance and muscle strength. During the school year, the kids are involved in school sports and activities and help as they can.

In the summers, the Wolf and Bock families, plus grandpa Mike, compete at six or seven pony pulling events.

The kids love it, their moms say. “We don’t make them do it. They want to do it,” Shelly said.

They’re with their ponies, no matter what the weather. “We do it pretty much every night,” Thorstenson said, “and we’re not talking if the weather is nice. Even if the wind chill is twelve or fifteen below, the kids don’t weaken.”

The kids do their own chores and, for the events, harness their own ponies. It’s too much work for the adults to do it all. “We’re there to coach,” Thorstenson said.

“It doesn’t always go perfect,” he said, of competitions. “Every once in a while there are little hiccups, but that’s why Grandpa is there, to straighten things out.”

The kids love the pony pulling, but they love being at the Winter Show, too. The families will stay for two days, including Thorstenson’s third daughter, Kayleen Thorstenson and her two kids, Lola and Emmit, who are too young yet for pony pulling.

The appeal of staying overnight in a hotel with a pool delights the kids. The cousins stay in a room together, and swim, too.

They also love the mini-donuts at the Winter Show, and the bucket the donuts come in, is put to use with the ponies. It’s the perfect size for measuring pony feed, Thorstenson said.

Shelly and Jill love their kids’ participation in pony pulling. “I like that it’s something we do as a family,” Jill said. It keeps the kids from too much screen time, too. “I like that the kids are doing something with an animal, instead of being inside, on a phone or watching TV,” Shelly said.

Roots at the Winter Show run deep for the family. Thorstenson showed a steer at the show in the early 1960s, as a teenager, and he and wife Reenie took their daughters to the show as kids. Reenie is a big help with the pony pulling. “Without her we’d really be a traveling circus,” Shelly said.

The cousins are close, the women said, and love spending time together. “They’re a tight knit bunch,” Shelly said.

Shelly is married to Shawn Wolf; Jill is married to Wade Bock.

The horse and pony pulling will be held on March 5, beginning at 10 a.m.

The N.D. Winter Show runs Feb. 29-March 7 and features a country music concert by Jerod Niemann (Feb. 29); a truck and tractor pull (March 3), livestock and crop shows; vendors, and a PRCA rodeo (March 6-7).

Tickets are available at the Winter Show office located at 700 Seventh Street SE, Valley City, N.D. Tickets are required for the truck and tractor pull and the rodeo. For more information, visit the website at or call 701.845.1401.

The North Dakota Winter Show is the oldest and longest running agriculture show in N.D. It attracts exhibitors and visitors from numerous states and Canada.

–North Dakota Winter Show