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. For many, horse-owner or not, horses and everything about them are the fabric of dreams.
Evening performances of “The Fantasia, A Musical Celebration of the Horse” featuring riders Tommie Turvey, Kelly Sapp, Guy McLean, among others, sold out early. The opening ceremony included the National Anthem sung by Melissa Serra, honoring the nation’s heroes for Veteran’s Day, as 5,000 attendees 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 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.
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.”