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Experiencing Michigan State University Horse Exhibition

Updated on March 14, 2015
Friesian performance- Music Revue
Friesian performance- Music Revue
Desensitizing a "spooky" horse
Desensitizing a "spooky" horse

Majestic Friesians - Prodigy, A Musical Revue

Prodigy of Majestic Friesians and his trainer Melissa Ashcraft made an appearance at MSU's stallion exhibition. Friesians are not only very stunnning in appearance and movement, but also very intelligent and capable of great things. In a fabulous display of tricks, it was apparent that his trainer displayed great knowledge of horsemanship. It was obvious that the pair had developed a bond based on communication and trust. It was truly a beautiful sight to behold.

You can expect that most horse exhibitions will have clinics or demonstrations such as this one which showcase the talents of various horses and trainers. Examples include demonstrations on "bomb-proofing", desensitization, trick training, and learning how to develop better communication with your horse.

Stallion Exhibition

Each horse exhibition you go to will be unique in some way. The MSU stallion exhibition featured many different stallions from well-known breeders. It is a great chance for horse lovers to see some of their favorite breeds. It is also a great way to network and branch out if you are looking to purchase or breed your horse. There are breeding stables which may not sell horses but still have stallions available for stud if you are looking to breed your mare to quality bloodlines.

Every horse has great potential if given the opportunity. But if you are looking for a fresh start, or bloodlines that are proven to be healthy with horses who have proven exquisite conformation, finding a breeder is definitely an option. These purebred lines offer horse enthusiasts a way to find the best of their favorite breeds and train them from the ground up.

Here is a short video I clipped from MSU's stallion presentations. Featured here is a Gypsy Vanner stallion.

MSU: Agriculture and Livestock Education

Michigan State University offers agriculture and livestock education programs at the Pavilion which occasionally hosts horse expositions as well as other events such as home and garden shows and 4-H shows. It was by a happy accident that I was in the area and heard about the exhibition. I rode and worked with horses for nearly 10 years and due to moving out of state and living a hectic life I have not had the chance to network within the horse community in Michigan up until now.

This exhibition featured breeders who introduced their stallions to the community. In addition there was a musical freestyle / horsemanship demonstration as well as a clinic on how to desensitize a spooky horse. Draft horse pulling was also featured on the day that I went to the exhibition.

In addition to the equine demonstrations there were many vendors of all sorts as well as educational programs, equine professional services, volunteer, and rescue programs. I hope to share my experiences with my readers and give you insight into what you may expect to find at a horse exposition near you.

Desensitizing a "spooky" horse
Desensitizing a "spooky" horse

Levi Beechy- Desensitization Demonstration

In trainer Levi Beechy's demonstration about dealing with a "spooky" horse, spectators had the opportunity to learn about what basically amounts to exposure therapy for horses. Waving a plastic bag around a horse may seem futile at first. How could a plastic bag be so scary? The fact is that horses are creatures of prey and have a very strong fight or flight instinct. "Spooky" horses will find anything to be afraid of. Desensitization training will help teach the horse to respect the trainer and acknowledge that the item in question, in this case a plastic bag, is nothing to be afraid of. Levi educated viewers on how the desensitization process works and demonstrated the proper methods for pursuing this process. Exposure to new objects forces the horse to face his fears. It is important to gradually introduce these scary items to horses in a controlled setting. It is also important to know when to take the pressure off. Horsemanship is about communication and understanding the horse you are working with. Respecting boundaries is important. If the horse has too much anxiety and is not properly desensitized, someone could get hurt.

Many exhibitions will have clinics about horsemanship and training, for example "breaking" and saddling, obstacle courses and "bomb-proofing", lunging, driving, basic ground work, and manners.

Draft horse pull
Draft horse pull

Barnyard Horse Pull

The Belgian Draft horse is certainly one of the most popular draft breeds used in weight pulling competitions, however any draft horse is eligible to participate. There are different weight classes and restrictions to prevent animal cruelty. The sport looks simple enough: hitch a horse to a heavy sled and watch them pull. Actually, it's not that simple. Horses need careful conditioning to ensure they do not hurt themselves upon exertion during the competition. One person is in charge of driving the team of horses while two other people are responsible for hitching them to a sled with a starting weight of approximately 1500 pounds. It is very easy to get a finger caught in the wrong place or get a foot caught beneath the sled if you do not know what you are doing. Needless to say, mistakes like this can cause severe injuries and irreparable damage.

Horses in these weight pulling competitions are required to pull a certain weight for a minimum distance and within a time limit. Weight is slowly increased to help the horses warm-up and prevent injuries. Eventually, some horse teams may not be able to pull increased weights for the minimum required time and distance and will not qualify for first place. Training can be tricky. These horses are trained to pull harder in response to more resistance from when they are being backed up in order to hitch to the sled.

Teamed horses must be in sync with each other and communication from the driver is key. Training for this sport requires constant practice to keep the horses in shape and working as a team.

Equipment for this sport may be costly, but should be quality enough to withstand the intense demands of this sport. I recall the announcer mentioning that the collars alone are approximately $300-$400 apiece, and harnesses are approximately $2,000 each. Of course, this differs depending where you purchase your equipment.

Here is a short video I clipped from the Barnyard Horse Pull event at MSU's Pavillion.

Vendors, Services, & Educational Programs

Horse exhibitions will feature many vendors, services for horses, riders, educational programs, volunteer programs, and adoption agencies.

Vendors at this exhibition included cosmetic as well as practical apparel for riders, horse trailers, nutritional supplements and medications for horses, artwork, collectibles, riding tack, food stands, and even local farms with horses for sale.

Information about Michigan State University's Animal Science and Veterinarian educational programs were available. I had the pleasure of speaking to different program representatives and faculty members about the programs, probability of finding corresponding careers in this state, whether internships and other networking means were available, whether certification was necessary to run a barn, and about the possibility of scheduling a meeting for a more in-depth view into what happens during class lectures and demonstrations.

It is likely that other horse exhibitions near you may feature a representative of some type of educational program. I found that this experience was much better than sitting on my computer at home and reading the academic website. Real-life experiences matter, and it is good to take the time to hear it first-hand, especially if you are unsure about what degree or certificate you want to pursue.

For example, the Veterinarian program offers a greater chance at finding a well-paying job, however the curriculum is very rigid and designed to be completed full-time within 4 years with very little room for compromise, especially since specific classes are only offered within certain semesters. If you have questions about how the process works, talk to the admissions office of the college you are interested in attending. Each college has their own system and their own way of doing things. If you are not interested in pursuing a full degree, a 2-year associate degree or certificate option may be available. If you are looking to expand your knowledge but not commit to a full program, taking one or two classes about specific topics is also an option.

Horse exhibitions are a great way for volunteer groups, rescues, and adoption agencies to reach out to the community. It is a great source for the community to gain experience through volunteering or learn more about what is involved with rescue and rehabilitation of horses and other animals. CANTER is a ex-racehorse sanctuary for Thoroughbreds who are rehabilitation and adopted out. The Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition is a volunteer-based organization which helps mediate between law enforcement and animal cruelty issues that arise. Many law enforcement officers are not familiar with handling horses or recognizing neglect. If they are not trained to deal with these situations, horse welfare groups can step in and offer assistance.

Equine service professionals make appearances at horse exhibitions. This includes dental technicians, chiropractic and massage services, trail and lesson facilities, boarding and breeding facilities, 4-H or other community programs, farriers, fencing and barn construction professionals, and more. Professionals have a chance at gaining new clients or selling their products. Customers have a chance to view new cutting-edge technology, such as special wraps for injured horses and saddles designed for a more therapeutic and comfortable fit. Medical and Farrier practices are always improving to ensure the best quality care for horses.

A Final Word

If you are interested in becoming more engaged with the equine community in your area, a horse exhibition is a great way to become more involved.

Personal experiences and stories from professionals may prove useful if you are investigating a specific interest. If you are looking for someplace to start riding, trying to find a new vet or farrier, new riding apparel, are interested in a horsemanship or behavioral clinic, or simply want to get out of the house and explore something new, there is always plenty to look at and learn about.

If you are interested in attending an exhibition, look up details about admission costs and a schedule of events. The events list is sometimes accompanied by a list of vendors so you can plan your day accordingly.

I hope this article has shed some light on what you can expect to find at these exhibitions and how enriching these events can be. The world of horses is always full of different sports, new ideas, and new products.

Horse enthusiasts remind us that working with horses is a labor of love, and most importantly, a reminder to all of us about the importance following our dreams, whatever they may be. I hope all of you find a way in life to pursue your passions and do what you love most.

Good Night, and Thanks for Reading!

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    • amanda5577 profile image
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      Amanda 3 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for your comment! It certainly was a great experience. Friesians are very captivating! They are elegant and intelligent and becoming increasingly popular not only to professional 'elite' competitors, but also among amateur (non-professional) riders.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Sounds like an event I would love! Before getting into the dog training business, horses were my first love. My favorite horses are Friesians. Voted up and beautiful.

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