Handlers of miniature horses, ponies have big goals at fair

 

Alexis Stark, 8, of Felton showed her miniature horse Bomber Thursday afternoon at the Delaware State Fair’s Pony & Miniature Horse Show. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Alexis Stark, 8, of Felton showed her miniature horse Bomber Thursday afternoon at the Delaware State Fair’s Pony & Miniature Horse Show. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

HARRINGTON –– The Quillen Arena was packed with tiny horses and handlers decked out in their finest denim and cowboy boots for Thursday’s Pony Show at the Delaware State Fair.

Eight-year-old Alexis Stark of Felton was dressed to impress while walking around one of her miniature horses, Bomber, before the competition.

Husband and wife Keith and Nancy Offen of Georgetown groom their miniature horse, Salem in preparation for the halter competition at Thursday’s Pony & Miniature Horse Show. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Husband and wife Keith and Nancy Offen of Georgetown groom their miniature horse, Salem in preparation for the halter competition at Thursday’s Pony & Miniature Horse Show. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

“I practice with my Grandmom,” she said while holding Bomber’s bridal. “I go to her farm and walk the ponies just like in a competition and we pretend she’s the judge.”

It’s good practice because in Alexis’ category, showmanship, the scores are based wholly on the handler’s ability to control and lead their horse and due to Alexis’ tiny stature, miniature horses and Shetland ponies are her specialty.

In her first of two competitions Thursday, she placed fourth with a miniature horse named Spike and she was showing Bomber later in the afternoon.

“I treat them more like pets than farm animals,” she said. “I take them for walks a few times a week and feed them treats. I’ve even come to the fair every day to visit them in their stables.”

Brittany Blacksten of Camden-Wyoming is 24 and like Alexis, got started out very young.

“I’ve been doing it since I was just a kid,” she said. “Horse showing is a tradition in our family because my grandfather started doing it when he was young and it’s just kind of kept going.”

Kay Betts, assistant superintendent of the horse show, said the tradition of the fair’s horse shows is what makes them so special.

“This is something that goes on for generations and once you’re involved, it’s probably going to keep going because then your kids get interested in it too,” she said.

Ms. Betts showed animals from childhood into adulthood and began working for the fair about 30 years ago coordinating various animal showing events.

Ms. Blacksten has participated in many different fair shows since she was a kid and Thursday was no different. Her family owns Dill’s Auction in Wyoming which hosts large livestock auctions so her family always has a wide array of entries into the fair’s shows and she showed four horses in various categories Thursday but started with a Welsh pony in showmanship.

Her Welsh pony came in second place in its category but fell short of winning the class’ grand champion prize.

In addition to showmanship, many competitors also took part in the halter competition which primarily judges the horse itself with 75 percent of the score based on the horse and only 25 percent is the handler.

“We’ve been showing horses since 2011 and my wife stepped in at the last minute at one of our first shows and actually ended up winning grand champion,” said Georgetown resident and horse shower Keith Offen.

He and his wife, Nancy, don’t do anything extreme to prepare their horses for competitions –– Mr. Offen said they basically only wash, train and exercise their horses.

Their horse on display Thursday morning was a 9-year-old miniature horse named Salem.

“We leave him mostly natural for shows,” Mr. Offen said. “A lot of people will trim the hair but we just make sure he’s well brushed and on his best behavior.”

The Offens were pleased to see a calm and collected Salem Thursday morning because he had been unsettled since getting to the fair a few days ago.

“He has a stablemate at home and he was getting pretty agitated from not being with her,” Mr. Offen said.

Although Salem was on his best behavior and looked dapper with his smooth hair and shiny hooves, he was entered into the miniature geldings category along with more than 20 other horses. It was the most populous category of the day and Salem didn’t make it into the top five.

“Looking good isn’t the only goal in halter,” Ms. Betts said. “The judge is looking to see which horses meet the breed standards the best so it can really come down to which horses you’re up against.”

But for all competitors, there’s always next year. Ms. Betts said that although this year had a higher number of entries than past years, many of the faces have stayed the same.

“Most the competitors come back year after year,” she said. “Many families become friends here and it’s a kind of reunion to see people you might not see the rest of the year at the fair every summer.”

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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