This week our in-house cowgirl Kristen Kovatch reports back from Equine Affaire 2012, where she shopped, soaked in education, and witnessed some displays of horsemanship you truly have to see to believe.
I can think of few reasons to willingly drive six or seven hours into a snowstorm—but for Equine Affaire, all personal reservations are set aside. Wednesday evening found me in the University’s dually, two freshmen ensconced in the cab with me, our gooseneck trailer and a retiring warmblood gelding in the back along for the ride. After a harrowing few miles in near-standstill traffic as the snow thickened to a whiteout somewhere in the Berkshires of Massachusetts—a far cry from our home of western New York state—we managed to get spectacularly lost in the back roads around four tiny villages with the same name, somehow found our destination barn, dropped off our warmblood and then rolled into the Eastern States Exposition, or, as it’s commonly called, the Big E.
After a few more harrowing moments banging at the frozen ball lock in the bed of the truck with whatever tools we could find in the cab, we set up our little booth for the Alfred University equestrian program in our 10’x12’ piece of real estate, my two freshmen sidekicks already wide-eyed and excited at the scope of the expo. We also squealed like blatant fangirls when we noticed that Lynn Palm’s latest champion Rugged Painted Lark would be stalled just around the corner, his new Breyer models stacked high and bearing Lynn’s signature.
The next morning, we sat in a bright-eyed row at our booth, an expo schedule spread between the three of us armed with pens. The girls, both AQHA riders, planned to stop in at one of Lynn’s western dressage demos in the afternoon and browse around the sheer acreage of the expo; I spent a few minutes at Barbara Schulte’s mechanical cow demonstration before wandering around a little bit myself.
I was thrilled to see more western clinicians as well as trade stalls—the overall theme this year, whether or not this was an intention, seemed to be emphasizing groundwork and overall horsemanship. While a lot of Equine Affaire seems to appeal to the recreational rider rather than the serious competitor, there was a lot of information to be gleaned from the various demonstrations, discussions, clinics and tradesmen. I picked up a neat new exercise to try with my cowhorse from Barbara Schulte and some really great ideas to use in classes and practices with my students from Christy Landwehr’s CHA lecture (mostly, I was flattered to hear her list a bunch of exercises that I thought I had invented myself—apparently I’ve been doing it right all along.)
My students asked me every time I returned to the booth what presents I had bought for my horses. Last year, the only things I came back with for Playgirl, my cowhorse mare, was a bunch of new exercises and a rekindled interest in improving her and myself as a rider—which was the greatest gift I probably could have gotten out of the weekend. This year, Playgirl did get a tangible object, a nice new Irish knit cooler. Tres, my broken-withered pleasure horse, was the recipient of knowledge and inspiration this year, thanks to the Australian contingency.
While attending Fantasia, the big musical shindig that Equine Affaire offers every year (think Disney on Ice meets a musical freestyle dressage with dinner theater, minus the dinner) we witnessed two performances: the first by Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship, an Australian duo performing at liberty. He rode out bareback and bridleless with another “naked” horse at his side and then performed some impressive synchronized free-lunging work, twisting the horses in and out of each other and circling all around him like attentive fish.
Double Dan Horsemanship on “Australia’s Got Talent” in 2011
Guy McLean blew us all away—he rode out on a horse with three horses working around him at liberty. He was able to place his horses all around the arena without them taking a single step unguided; with his saddle horse he ran a barrel pattern around them and then demonstrated something like eighteen tempi changes in a row, short-circuiting my brain when he managed to canter his horse backwards. He then asked a horse to lie down—a three-year-old at his first performance ever—and sidepassed the other three over top. McLean then sent three of the horses out of the arena—without a handler—and got on the three-year-old bareback and bridleless, loping him around easily and changing leads. I normally dislike subscribing to the methods of just one trainer, but I had to admit that these Aussies looked like they were on to something.
Meet Guy McLean.
Watching these wild Australians on their liberty horses perform with little or no resistance from the animals, I was reminded that it would be totally possible to reform my Tres, a notoriously ill-behaved horse on the ground who is now laid up for six months with broken withers. With nothing but time on our hands, it’s a logical step. In a way, his injury has almost become a blessing—if he’s not a better horse when he’s sound again I have no one to blame but myself.
Sentimental observations aside, we shopped, and shopped well, coming home laden down with new spurs, belts, jackets and blankets between the three of us—after all, what else is a girl to do with literal acres of shopping?
Overall, we were impressed again with the Equine Affaire—the increase of western-based demos and booths, the quality of the clinicians, the variety in the trade show. We came. We shopped. We snuggled with miniature donkeys.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins, and most recently Ranch & Reata.