by Laura Rodley
Approximately 100,000 indulged their love affair with horses during the 16th annual Equine Affaire, promoting equine education, communication, and cooperation between horses and riders and within the industry held in Springfield, MA, Nov. 7 to 10. During clinics, presenters taught people how horses think to create better relationships versus just commanding, kindness being key. President and founder Eugenia Snyder started Equine Affaire in Dayton, Ohio in 1994, still held in London, Ohio. For many, horse-owner or not, horses and everything about them are the fabric of dreams.
Saturday night’s performance of “The Fantasia, A Musical Celebration of the Horse” featuring riders Tommie Turvey, Kelly Sapp, Guy McLean, among others, sold out in June. Friday’s sold out too. Opening ceremony ushering in Jeff Wilson on his Morgan, Delview Catskill Valiant, Canadian Cowgirls Precision Drill Team in red and white sequined costumes, bearing flags, included the National Anthem sung by Melissa Serra, honoring the nation’s heroes for Veteran’s Day, as 5,000 seated in the coliseum held cellphones aloft, displaying pictures of loved ones in the service.
Exquisite communication between horse and rider is what lifted the performance to its heights, allowing feats such as Turvey straddling the backs of two paints while they leaped over flaming horizontal bars, McLean riding one horse while urging another, sans bridle or lead to lie down as two others positioned their bodies over the prone horse, then eased themselves over the prone horse’s head, all while talking to the horses, keeping the crowd in stitches, and sober while he recited a poem to his horse standing alone in the spotlight.
Bleachers bulged as they gave clinics, sharing their communication secrets, as did Stacy Westfall and others. Australian resident, heartthrob McLean believes in making dreams come true. He starts with very young horses, age two and three. He said, “The reason I ask so much of the young horse is to make them safe.” He is often told he seems to be in an incredible hurry. The youngest of five boys, his father taught when working, work well, “as though you mean it.”
He is passing that sense of importance of work and its achievement to his horses, asking them to work as his partners while treating them with kindness and appreciation, “so they have their whole career with me,” traveling worldwide, giving them a “forever home.”
“I’m trying to make a business, bring in enough money to help me continue to do this,” he said, as his horses circle him. Two-time Australian Bush Poetry Champion and champion colt starter in Australia and America, he gives presentations throughout the U.S., including World Equestrian Games, National Rodeo Finals, and Washington International Horse Show.
“Every time I bring another horse into the arena I bring in another personality,” he said.
Communication is paramount in AGHA and NRHA Freestyle Reining Champion Stacy Westfall’s teaching, resident of Mt.Gilead, OH, who won riding bridleless and bareback, later featured on Ellen Degeneres show in 2008. The line at her booth was 20 deep. “I welcome coming back to New England ‘cos I’m from Maine. I feel humble and happy doing what I love. I was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas, and I am from the state of Maine.”
All horses and donkeys need cues, says mule whisperer, Professor of Equine Science in Los Angeles CA, Steve Edwards. To cue a mule to let him know you’re going to mount him, shake the saddle, repeat it. To stop, pull first with the right rein, then the left, right/ left, right/ left. “Don’t want to go in a circle on the Grand Canyon; it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”
Backing up, keep hands wide apart, not crossing the pommel, while keeping the “left (rein) right solid, bump with the right hand,” and vice versa, building a foundation.
“Forty years ago, you wouldn’t like me. I’m a better horseman now. I was a whip ‘em, spur ‘em and throw ‘em down on the ground and while they were down, beat ‘em,” he said, and not alone in that, before learning that a mule’s brain doesn’t have a parietal lobe, that you need to speak to both the right and left side, and can do so with right/ left rein movement.
Attendees can return home, pass on his learned kindness to their own animals.
Rider’s horses become almost as famous as their riders. “Equine Extremist” Turvey’s American Paint Horses Pokerjoe and Joker were made into Breyer horse models, 10,000 each. Only six remained at his booth Sunday afternoon.
Owner of Liberty Horse Ranch in Summerville GA, heartthrob Turvey has trained horses for movies and the 2013 Budweiser Clydesdales Superbowl commercial. He delighted attendees by teaching riding standing bareback, getting a horse to lie down and sit. “Most people who know how to ride bareback started as a little kid. Think it has something to do with falling off,” he said.
Vendors displayed boots to saddles. Trainer David Kadin had seven saddles and none fit. “Tired of buying saddles that didn’t fit,” he custom-fit his own to his horse’s width, arch, and angle, starting his business Specialized Saddles, soaring to world leadership in saddle-fit technology, with seven figure annual sales and 12 employees making saddles on a 23-acre horse ranch in Canutillo, TX weighing 12 to 20 pounds, half typical western saddles. “I was a homebuilder when I got into endurance racing. I won three national championships after making saddles fit for the horse. Wasn’t that I was that great; the horses move that much better when the saddle fit.”
Unexpected was a man suited in tweed, slacks and leather boots standing in a bucket of water amidst a wool sweaters display and an unopened bottle of champagne. He was Danny Hulse of Chester County, PA displaying water retardant properties of leather boots sold by dubarry of Ireland’s since 1937. Though they cannot advertise that their boots have been worn by royals, they admit wearers include, “Certain eventers of 1976 Olympics.”
This year’s Equine Affaire was all marketing manager Karin E. Brennan had dreamed of. “Next year will be our 50th event. We’re planning an even larger production to make the 50th one to remember.”