By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
Eight-year-old Paige Stone has a passion for training large animals, several times her weight. She had her first pair of oxen when she was 5. She took them to competitions and told them what to do as they pulled 1,000 pounds or so behind them.
Now, she’s training a calf.
The red calf, born on the farm in early June, already weighs 250 pounds. He pulled her around as she trained him last Monday night at her home in Barnard and she tugged him right back. She named the calf Reckless.
Paige was firm with him.
She batted Reckless with a stick to make him go. She walked him with a halter up and down the driveway practicing commands: “Whoa” for stop. “Gee” for right. And “Haw” for left.
Paige works with him every night.
“C’mon, Reckless,” she repeated, her voice firm. She made Reckless walk and then made him stand.
Soon he’ll do what she says without the halter and once he gets bigger she’ll bring him to ox pulling competitions alongside her father, Nate, who has been at this for 27 years.
Ox pulling is a hobby the whole family shares.
Nate, goes to ox pulling competitions all around New England and New York about every week in the summer. Paige, her mother Amy and brother Jacob, 10, also go to competitions whenever they can make it.
“We’re mostly just cheerleaders,” Amy said.
Amy is also the photographer and steps in to hitch them.
Stone has seven oxen. He started training calves when he was about Paige’s age. Like dogs, his oxen come when Stone calls their name.
He exercises his oxen every night, going up and down their driveway with heavy tires or cement blocks seven times to get a mile in. This is how they stay in shape for competitions. His largest pair can pull up to 10,000 pounds in competition if the terrain is easy and flat.
The family moved to their home in Barnard two years ago, returning to the Upper Valley, where Stone grew up. His oxen have helped clear two acres of land on his property.
When he lived in Londonderry, he used oxen to collect 3,000 gallons of sap.
“They worked better than the tractor because they could run themselves,” Stone said.
He hollered and they brought the sled to him. Stone works in construction for Bill Cole, the owner of Ox Hill Construction in Pomfret. Cole is another ox pulling competitor.
They knew each other growing up. Both started in 4-H and then entered pulling competitions as teenagers. Stone and Cole, who is about six years older, were both interested in oxen because Cole’s older brother had a pair.
Stone just liked watching them, “I thought it was neat how they would listen and do it and the way that they would pull,” he said.
He’s passing that onto his kids.
When Reckless got strong as Paige trained him, her father stepped in to help.
“Gee him right around (in a circle),” he told Paige.
Paige shrugged and looked at her father when asked what she likes about her ox.
“You just like your critters,” Stone said.
In addition to Reckless, Paige has a kitten and a tiny pony named Fred while her brother, who has also competed in pulling, takes care of Reckless’ mother name Haley and Reckless’ twin sister. They are all kept in the same pasture at the modest family farm.
Fred, the smallest of them all, “is basically the ruler of the pasture,” Jacob said.
They all do barn chores. Amy, who grew up on a dairy farm, milks their cow Haley every morning so they always have fresh raw milk to drink.
Paige got all the animals into the barn on Monday and gave them grain.
“So many hobbies people have aren’t geared toward the whole family,” Amy said.
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff