Monday, April 23, 2012

Midwest Horse Fair 2012: Hitting the Highlights

Ah, the Midwest Horse Fair!  Acres of horses, ponies, tack, jewelery, costumes, trainers, books, supplements, art, food, pony rides-- basically a giant horse-themed amusement park/mall descends on Madison, WI once a year for three days.

It's hard to even begin to blog about this event, because there's so much material, good and bad, to work with. That's why I've decided to split things up. The snarkiest, nastiest material I have is focused on Asia Voight, an "animal communicator" (a.k.a psychic), and that post will shortly (I hope) be featured over at fuglyblog. I may also do some separate in-depth posts on other subjects. This post right here is just going to hit the highlights-- but oh, what highlights! Strap on your helmets folks, let's start this ro-day-oh:

The Good

The Midwest Renegades is a trick-riding association, and although I'm not pleased about their lack of helmets, they are incredible riders. The young ladies I saw hung upside-down by one leg at a canter! Check out the beginning of their routine in this video. Sorry I didn't get the whole thing; some people directly in front of me decided that the middle of the show would be a great time to stand up and mill around.

The farrier competitions at MWHF are incredible to watch. Teams of expert farriers from across the nation compete against each other to create the best specialty horseshoes from scratch, in front of roaring furnaces and cheering crowds. Pictured here in the green shirt is Tom Petersch and his team from Bozeman, MT and in the black shirt, Robbie Mederos and his team from Danville, CA.

Terry Fenwick and his wife are the good folks behind America's Equine Soccer League, a grassroots effort here in WI to provide a fun way to train your horse, interact with others and do something productive in the winter. The Fenwicks are looking for people to host soccer games in their indoor or outdoor arenas, and are willing to give prospective hosts and players a ton of support. Terry is even willing to do a soccer-ball-desensitization-and-training clinic at your barn for just the cost of gas. By liking their Facebook page, you have a chance to win one of their giant horse soccer balls! The Fenwicks organized several soccer matches in the Nutrena Arena during the fair, and they were a blast to watch. I want to try!!

One of the coolest things about MWHF is the accessibility of the horses. Horses are ridden, driven and led right through the crowds of people milling around. You can get right up close to the most gorgeous equines and talk to their owners. It seems as though the risk to people, many of whom are not horse-experienced, would not be allowed. However, nearly every horse and rider I met seemed calm, competent and very prepared for the excitement. I applaud the professionalism on display.

This is the PRE (Andalusian) stallion Amadeo, my favorite hunk on Stallion Avenue. He's six years old, stabled in Oswego WI, and working on level 2 dressage. I wasn't a huge fan of his handler, but Amadeo was incredible.

I was disappointed that there weren't many horse rescues at the fair, but I was delighted to discover one I'd never heard of before: Holy Land Donkeys from Mount Calvary WI. I have always had a soft spot for the long-eared-fuzzies, but this was the first time I'd seen standard-sized donkeys and mammoth donkeys in person. I fell in love immediately. I hope to volunteer there at their Donkey Days event in October.

The Bad

The Mill Creek Hunt Club is seeking members. But you must ride English and dress in club-approved clothing, you must braid you and your horse's hair in approved fashions, and you absolutely must speak with a slightly snobbish inflection. Oh, and you need to like running down and killing coyotes with dogs. Coyotes will occasionally kill a barn cat or chicken that's been carelessly left out at night, but otherwise they are useful, not dangerous. These small, dog-like animals eat pests like rats, mice and rabbits, and clean up roadkill and other dead animals. Why shoot nature's garbageman? Well, because apparently foxes are in shorter supply.

Unfortunately, the Quarter Horse folks were at it again with their peanut-rolling antics. My mother, who is not a horse person, watched this exhibition with me. As soon as the horses stepped into the arena, she asked, "Are those horses sad or something?" Every one of them had heads drooping down to their knees, stiffly jerking around in a parody of a lope. Don't get me wrong, there were some impressive horses and riders-- I particularly enjoyed the trick-riding cowboy and the lady who reined with no bridle. It's just that I hate to see a working breed reduced to extremely artificial gaits in the name of fashion.

The notorious Asia Voight claims that you can become a horse whisperer in minutes, save thousands of dollars in vet bills, and fix any training problem, including bucking, biting, rearing and bolting...just by psychically talking to your horse. If you don't have the knack, don't worry-- you can pay her $150 for a half-hour phone call, during which she will connect with your horse using only a photograph. I've got video of her doing some hilarious "psychic readings," and some great quotes, but I'll hold off until the Fuglyblog post.

This is "Muffin," a 22 year old curly mare who looked pretty miserable. I'm not sure what was going on with her skin/coat, but she looked apathetic and had diarrhea. A posted sign claimed that the marks on her face were halter scars from past abuse (before the current owner). Why bring a horse to the fair in this generally poor condition? The owner appears to be Elizabeth Brownlie, though the tag was hard to read. Poor Muffin.

The gaited horses were a pleasure to watch-- except for this man, who simultaneously rode and drove these Puerto Rican Paso Finos. It looked difficult and just plain dangerous to me, though I admit I'm no expert.

As usual, the Gypsy Vanner crowd provided some entertainment. This particular photo shows a stallion who was obviously unprepared for doing Liberty. He kept running back to the gate and pacing at the fence, frightened. His handler, a guy with a weird mullet-ponytail, didn't help-- he kept running around, cracking the whip and flashing it around the stallion's head to try to get him to run around and show off. The crowd around me eventually got so impatient with the failed show and stupid whip antics, they started calling for the handler to halter the horse.

The Great Lakes Friesians were awesome-- better than last year, actually, and certainly better than some other Friesian organizations. However, this side-saddle rider partially ruined the exhibition for me by holding her horse's head cranked down to its chest the entire time she was in the ring. This picture doesn't even show the worst of it, though he's clearly behind the vertical here.

Oh, and one more thing. PEOPLE! DO. NOT. STOP. IN. THE. MIDDLE. OF. THE. AISLES!!!!! Seriously, I know there's stuff you want to look at, but step off to the side. Other people are trying to move! This applies not only inside, where there are hoards of people, but outside as well, where there are 1,000 pound animals that need to get through! I saw two girls literally stopped to braid each others' hair inside the packed vendor area. I saw women park their double-wide strollers across aisles while they stopped to look at cowgirl bling. Arghh!

The Weird & Wonderful

Just because I don't approve of breeding solely for color doesn't mean I can't appreciate unusual colors. This is a champagne Appaloosa. It's hard to tell in this picture, but he had caramel-colored eyes! He is a stallion, by the way, though I didn't manage to find out his name or owner. Actually, his conformation seemed pretty nice.

Everything you could possibly want to buy, in any color, is available at the Midwest Horse Fair! This saddle was adorned with genuine Swarovsky crystals.

The Belgian "Big Jake," the tallest horse in the world, once again graced the fair with his presence. He stands over 20 hands high, and weighs about 2,600 pounds. That means his shoulder is taller than an average man's head, and he's 2-3 times the weight of an average riding horse. He lives at Smokey Hollow Farm near Poynette, WI. Horses this size can drink 20+ gallons of water per day, and eat 50+ pounds of food per day.

Watching the Oneida tribe do some traditional dances was really cool. However, I was a bit confused. I was expecting Native Americans from the plains region on horseback. Oneidas, of course, didn't traditionally have horses-- horses were of much less use in heavily wooded areas. I think this was MWHF's attempt to throw some of that "heritage" theme into the proceedings. Not that I minded, because the dancers were great; I just think it's funny (or sad?) that most people immediately associate Indians with horses, no matter which tribe, and that's probably really the reason the Oneidas were invited.


  1. Hi...I'm from WI too and was at Midwest Friday and Saturday. That Vanner was terrible in his stallion review on Sat. The woman tried to ride bareback, barefoot, and helmetless, and he was obviously terrified and half trained. It was frightening to watch! Also, did you see the Friesian with the mane that almost dragged the ground? In his stall, with it braided, his neck flopped to the side. I found it to be a cruel manifestation of human vanity projected on the horse. And without all the hair, he was homely.

    1. I think you need to learn more about friesians before you bash that horse that was in that stall. You know nothing about him or the people that own him. Homely? How dare you

  2. Hey Bailey, and North Horse, I am in Oregon/Brooklyn. I went to Midwest on Fri and Sat too.
    The Bad.. PARKING.. and trying to get into, TO park. The 4H tack sale, space, crowds. And the Andis Demo "arena"... It was a Farmer's market produce sized tent, with space for 20 people, a speaker system, and two pieces of gate to separate the crowd from what ever equine was brought in.. IT SUCKED!!
    Breed demos.. er.. what BREED DEMOS.. I got tickets and planned to take my 78 year old barn owner so she could see the Pinto breed demo.. which was saturday, nothing on friday at all but the pinto draft.. They put breed demos on the back burner, randomly switching them to other "arenas".. and only a few breeds Actually DEMO'd!
    So when did THAT become a breed. and how is that different than the pinto breed demo, AND Spotted Draft (which is a misnomer, I think appaloosa draft when I think of spots)...
    The good, the trailers, parts of the barns, the clinicians and the horses overall. And the prices in the 4H tack sale. And the signs on the Mustang stalls "please don't bid on me!!"
    I came home with a mid level all purpose saddle, some fly masks, a pony bridle and two helmets.
    And very few pictures. bleh...

  3. Hi Bailey and Carol! Thanks for chiming in! OMG, I can't believe I didn't get pictures of the failed Vanner stallion review. Do you happen to have any?! And yes, I did see the Friesian with the super long mane-- by the end of the show, he had stepped on it so much that a ton of it broke off! I agree, the super-long hair does nothing for the horse except cause discomfort.

    Yeah Carol, the Andis Demo tent was truly awful-- I ended up having to sit outside on the ground and just listen to the speaker, because it was impossible to see anything with the number of people packed into that tiny tent. What were they thinking?!

    So what was up with the "please don't bid on me" signs by the mustangs? Loved the Mustang Makeover presentations.

    Glad you guys made it, please do keep commenting because we love to read 'em!

  4. I live in MN now but am from WI originally. The Midwest Horse Fair is way better than the MN Horse Expo. This year, we splurged and did all 3 days at the Horse Fair, including the Saturday night show. There were some fantastic clinicians and great topics. We didn't have a chance to see/hear everything we wanted to even in 3 days.

    And as far as horse rescues, we spent at least an hour each day with our good friends over at Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation. We made sure to wear our MHWF gear each day for better visibility :)

    I avoided Asia Voigt and Linda Parelli, I have no time for either of them. But I thoroughly enjoyed Guy Mclean, Dr. Julie Kaufman, and Dr. Clare Ryan. Would have liked to have seen some of the Horses of War presentations, but they were always on when something else I wanted to see was.

    And the Liberty WAS a bit disappointing this year. Every horse either hovered at the gate or just ran and ran and ran and ran with no showing off at all. Except Jamil's Silhouette, he had him some nice trot action and some head tossing too. They needed a Saddlebred or 2 to show them how to show off and strut their stuff. I know my ASB could have shown them all how Liberty is meant to be.

    The long-maned Friesian looked to me to have a fallen crest. Not surprising, considering his age (over 20 as I recall) and with a heavy cresty neck like a Friesian has, I think they may be more prone to it. The mane may have contributed, but it's hard to say.

  5. The sidesaddle lady on the friesian holding HER like that ruined it? You try riding something sidesaddle that is nervous and ready to think you could handle that. Think again jack ass