Horse and pony events showcase successful relationships
ROCK COUNTY Lynx, a 13-year-old paint mare, was magnificent.
When she entered the ring, she stood calmly waiting her turn to trot around the orange cones and pivot gracefully on her back leg.
Back in the shade of the pole barn, she seemed to droop a little, as though she had given her best and now just wanted a touch on the nose, a pat on the neck and some delicious, delicious hay.
On Saturday, Lynx and a herd of other horses were spending the day strutting their stuff at Shotliff Farms in the town of Porter for the 4-H Horse and Pony Show. The show continues today with all the pony classes.
This is the main event for 4-H and FFA kids in the horse and pony categories.
In the past, the horse and pony competition was held on the Rock County fairgrounds, usually before fair week. Limited space for housing—and showing—animals made it difficult to do during fair week.
“There aren’t really the right conditions to show horses at the fairgrounds,” said Terri Vincent, one of the superintendents.
This year, Mel and Kendra Shotliff, offered the facilities on their farm. The Shotliffs have an indoor and outdoor arena with seating for spectators.
Much of the morning was taken up with showmanship classes.
Showmanship is about the relationship between the handler and the horse. Horses are groomed and put into their best bridles. Then the handler walks beside horse, guiding it through a particular pattern. The horse also has to do a pivot turn on one of its back legs.
“All the movements are what the horse would do naturally in the wild,” said Ann Armstrong, 18, a member of Spring Valley 4-H. “You’re just teaching them to respond to pressure.” And by “pressure,” Armstrong means a barely visible push or gesture with the hand.
Showmanship judge Sara Gronski of Marshfield has been judging for about 10 years and is “carded”—certified—with the Wisconsin State Horse Council.
The key to showmanship is patience, she said. Anybody can learn how, but to really succeed takes persistence. Handlers have to build a solid relationship with their animals.
“It really teaches compassion and responsibility,” Gronski said.
Armstrong and Lynx have been working together for a long time and know each other.
“I always say that it takes about 30 days to break a horse of a bad habit,” Armstrong said.
In response, Lynx turned her head slightly and blinked, as though to say, “Nobody here has any bad habits.”
On show days, Lynx gets “really cuddly,” Armstrong said.
It’s just a little anxiety about being in a different place, she said.
Even when they’re standing next to each other, Lynx seems to be leaning toward her handler, ready for instruction, advice and encouragement.
At the end of the morning, Lynx and Armstrong won reserve grand champion in the showmanship class. That means they were first in their class and second overall.
Katie Jensen, 12, of Spring Valley 4-H and her horse, Bevin, were the grand champions.
Jensen, who will be in seventh grade next year, has been showing horses for more than five years, said her sister, Maggie Jensen.
IF YOU GO
What: 4-H Horse and Pony Show
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Shotliff Farms, 9402 N. Berg Road, Evansville.