The Massachusetts Quarter Horse Association (MQHA) held their annual show in May at the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds in West Springfield, MA. Admission was free to watch the four-day show, which featured competitive riders and their American Quarter Horse breeds competing in a full slate of classes and plenty of prizes up for grabs.
Northampton, MA has been the site of the MQHA spring show since it first started but due to a scheduling conflict this year they had to find a new home and new dates.
The slight detour in venue didn’t seem to affect the show much as there were over 400 exhibitors and just under 250 horses, which was up 50 stalls from last year.
“The numbers are starting to pick back up,” show manager Andy Tanner said. “It did fall off the last two to three years. The economy played a huge part in that.”
The husband and wife team of Andy and Marge Tanner have run the show for the past four years. Residing in Webster, NH, the Tanners had been involved with the MQHA for quite for some time, first as spectators watching their daughter participate in riding competitions then helping out with the show.
“I like to still be part of the industry, the people you meet and the comradery of it all,” show secretary Marge Tanner said in regards to why she got involved as a show organizer.
With Andy in charge of the day-to-day operations and Marge handling administrative duties the couple has been able to put together and organize a successful show that has exhibitors returning year after year. It isn’t just New Englanders coming back on a consistent basis. Two families from Nova Scotia, Canada have been taking part in the show for the past 26 years.
“This is the closest show with good competition and the least amount of driving,” Nova Scotia native Pam Holmes said. “Shows up in Canada are smaller and Toronto is farther to travel.”
The other exhibitor from Nova Scotia, Jana Vanderheuvel, has been competing at the show since she was a young child. This year her five-year-old daughter, Elsie, competed for the first time. She received two blue ribbons, one in a Western Pleasure class and another in a Leadline class.
Children such as Elsie are big part of the show because the MQHA is continually promoting the development of their youth and have even created their own organization known as the Massachusetts Quarter Horse Youth Association (MQHYA).
Another reason exhibitors are drawn to the show is due to the sheer number of classes offered and the unique format used — a split combined format. The idea behind this format is that any two consecutive shows can be combined into one show and split over two days. There are two judges and two sets of points but each class is held only once. This is considered a real bonus for exhibitors who are trying to qualify for national shows or earn year-end awards.
Some of the divisions offered included halter classes, which are judged on horse conformation; showmanship, which is judged on how the horse and rider present; pleasure classes, which are judged on how the horse moves and equitation classes which focuses on the rider’s position on the horse. With the large amount of classes comes the opportunity to win more cash and prizes.
“There was over $7,500 in cash and prizes this year,” Marge said. “We were very successful with sponsors this year so we’re able to do a lot for our exhibitors. We feel the need to give back to our exhibitors for their loyalty over the years and to encourage future participation.”
New this year, were circuit awards where the competitor must show under all four judges. The winner is the person with the highest points in a particular class.
Exhibitors to the show were also able to enjoy The Royal Court Reception, a yearly event in which girls ages nine through 25 who are MQHA or MQHYA members compete for the opportunity to be selected as the queen, princess and junior princess. The MQHA Royal Court program is one of the most successful and longstanding AQHA affiliate queen programs in the country. MQHA Royalty are ambassadors of the association, and they attend shows, trail rides, meetings, clinics and Equine Affaire each year. Prizes vary from year to year but it is the responsibility of the Royal Court coordinator to find sponsors and procure prizes for the winners.
The Massachusetts contest consists of an interview in front of a panel of judges, a written test on the 2016 AQHA rulebook taken at Equine Affaire in November, and an impromptu speech in front of a live audience given at the MQHA December meeting. They must also have 10 hours of documented equine related community service. The highest score from the three events wins the title.