We caught up with Kellie Rettinger of Whispery Pines Percherons, the first draft horse exhibitors to present a draft-specific clinic at Equine Affaire in Ohio — what goes on behind the scenes, especially for the famous Fantasia performance?
Anyone who has ever attended the Equine Affaire — either location in Ohio or Massachusetts — knows that it’s not a place for the faint of heart. The vendor shows are measured in acres. There are more world-renowned horsemen teaching clinics than you can shake a stick at. And of course, there are horses… everywhere. It’s like a four-day Disney World for horse lovers.
And certainly, Equine Affaire is no casual undertaking from the back side either: we spoke with Kellie Rettinger of Whispery Pines Percherons, based in Kingsville, Ohio just a few days after the Ohio Equine Affaire to learn what this unique opportunity is like from the exhibitor’s point of view. Equine exhibitors might be asked to present breed demonstrations, farm exhibits in the stabling area, perform in the famous Fantasia equine musical revue, teach clinics — or in Whispery Pines’ case, all of the above!
Whispery Pines Percherons owns nine Percheron draft horses, one of the most popular draft breeds in the United States for both work and show — and the Rettingers use their Percherons for both, showing their horses at local and state fairs in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as livestock expos, and working the horses in logging, carriage and sleigh rides, parades and weddings.
“I’ve shown ever type of horse under the sun,” Kellie mentioned, “but drafts have always held a special place in our hearts.” Her background in Quarter horses in hunt seat, western pleasure, gaming and cutting gave way to a love for drafts when she met her now husband Sam ten years ago. Sam grew up with draft horses, driving and showing them from a young age. Sam handles the training of the Rettinger horses at home and handles the logging projects. Kellie rides and drives the Percherons, showing them in harness classes as well as saddleseat, western pleasure and Roman riding.
This multi-disciplinary approach to draft horses worked in the Rettingers’ favor for Equine Affaire. “Karin Brennen from the Horse and Farm Exhibits at Equine Affaire heard about us from a friend of hers and said we would be a good fit, around the same time I applied for the Fantasia Show,” Kellie described. “We received the email in December that we were invited to participate! I was stunned. They had many hitches to choose from, but we offered an all-around aspect for the show.”
Not only was Whispery Pines Percherons selected to exhibit, but to teach clinics as well: “We were the first draft horse clinicians to ever attend Equine Affaire! We put on a one-hour clinic called ‘Harnessing Horsepower,’ focusing on hitching and logging. We performed two breed demos and one in-hand presentation in the Equine Fundamentals Forum as well.”
The once-in-a-lifetime moment, however, definitely came in the Fantasia. If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend the Fantasia, it’s a memorable performance: Equine Affaire’s clinicians as well as some special performers come together to present an equine musical revue, with liberty work, freestyle routines and awe-inspiring performances. The Whispery Pines Percherons had their moment in the spotlight.
En route to the arena:
“The horses performed very well and adjusted in no time,” Kellie stated. “I will say, however, when we hit the gates of the coliseum and you looked into the crowd with not one empty seat in the whole house, music playing, crowd cheering, it hits you. A rush of adrenaline, and cameras flashing everywhere! The horses felt the excitement and roar of the crowd but you could still see their ears listening for my husband to say his next command. Performing for Fantasia was a once in a lifetime opportunity and a experience that we will never forget.”
“We dedicated our six horse hitch drive each night to our Grandfather Dick Stasiak who was up on the seat of the wagon with us in spirit. He had a true love for horses and we will continue his legacy: he had owned and showed draft horses for his whole life, and helped Sam get started when Sam was just two years old. He owned Clydesdales, Belgians and Percherons and was a local legend, a true cowboy.”
Kellie is quick to thank the entire crew at Whispery Pines Percherons: “There is much work that goes into all of this and it is not just Sam and myself. We have a crew of family and friends to help us. Each person plays a special role for Whispery Pines Percherons — each horse to get ready for the six takes well over one hour of preparation from braiding, bathing, harnessing, grooming and so on. Without these people there is no Whispery Pines Percherons!”
“Equine Affaire was probably one of the best decisions I had ever made — it was tons and tons of hard work and preparation and stress but I can say it was 100% worth it. I had the time of my life!”