Horse expo satisfies a mounting interest

Weekend event has plenty to offer for old hands as well as tenderfoots

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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If you go

What: Washington State Horse Expo.

Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

When: 3 to 9 p.m. Feb. 17, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 18 and Feb. 19

Cost: Day passes: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors 62 and older and children ages 7-12, free for children younger than 7. Weekend passes: $24 for adults, $20 for seniors 62 and older and children 7-12.

Information:wastatehorseexpo.com.

Horse Expo highlights

• Friday: 5:30 p.m., Craig Cameron Extreme Cowboy Race.

• Saturday: 8 p.m., Equine Extravaganza.

• Sunday: 3:45 p.m., Cowboy Race Awards and Body Control; 4:30 p.m., All The Beautiful Horses Breed Parade.

Yoda’s words about facing the dark side of the Force in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” seem oddly applicable to what happens when you approach a horse.

In the film, when Luke Skywalker asks what he’ll find in an ominous cave of dark energy, Yoda replies “only what you take with you.”

In a similar way, when you first meet a horse, it will reflect your emotional state back to you — dark or light — said Maryjoe Irvine-Turnbull, co-producer of the Washington State Horse Expo.

“Horses live in the moment,” Irvine-Turnbull said. “They’re honest all the time. They don’t fool or fuss with you. A horse teaches you to adapt and get a more successful outcome. They’re a mirror image of you.”

If you’re in a bad mood, the horse will be in one, too. If you’re angry, the horse will be, too -- or it will just run away, she said.

The Horse Expo, in its second year, is designed to help people better understand horses, how they think and how to interact with them.

Horse owners will get a whole slew of information about training the animals, but there also are many fun events for folks who don’t own horses, Irvine-Turnbull said.

“My goal with this whole show is to reach out to people who like horses but aren’t in the industry,” Irvine-Turnbull said. “If you own a horse, great, but even if you don’t you’ll be super-entertained.”

Events will include stunt and obstacle races, breed shows, horseback gymnastics and informational sessions. Kids will get several chances to be up close and personal with horses and be able to ask their trainers questions.

The expo is also a great place to learn how to handle difficult horses, said Francesca Carson, a partner in Steve Rother Horsemanship.

Carson will perform tricks at the Expo with one of her miniature horses, Spanky, and Parson Russell terrier, Dally.

“The cool thing about minis — people who don’t even know much about riding, they just love to see them,” Carson said. “They get really interested because they’re so cute.”

Her work with Spanky, a rescue horse, taught Carson a lot about how horses both large and small react to the environment around them.

“When we got him he used to bite and kick, he’d even drawn blood, so we knew he needed some help,” Carson said. “Obviously, I can’t ride him, so I did some preliminary ground work with him, which is where you do things like leading the horse through various obstacles.”

Horses are herd animals, so leading them helps them to respect you as head of the herd, she said.

To help weed out some of his aggression, she also put Spanky in a stable with regular-sized horses, which taught him a bit about his pack order.

After about a year of work, he calmed significantly — enough to become a surprise part of a two-species animal act.

“As he started getting more respectful, I thought it would be

fun to do a little trick training with him,” Carson said. “And at the same time that he was finally ready to do that, we also got this little … puppy.”

The puppy used to hang out at the barn while Carson taught Spanky his repertoire of 20 tricks. When winter set in, she would balance Dally on Spanky’s back to get him through the snow, which was too deep for the small dog.

“It was totally unplanned, but when the snow was gone, she (Dally) jumped on him and looked at me like, ‘Are we ready to go?’” Carson said. “She was so excited, she’d stay on his back for hours.”

The dog and the horse became close interspecies friends, and Spanky still seems to enjoy giving Dally rides.

“Three years after we got Spanky, he’s a completely different horse,” Carson said. “He’s really developed. And now, well, I guess I literally did end up with a dog and pony show.”

Helping humans

Understanding horses and working with them can be helpful for people, too -- especially kids. There are several programs in Clark County that pair people and horses for therapeutic benefits, said Mary Ann Simonds, a Vancouver equine and equestrian industry consultant.

“Horses have this ability to be emotionally and emphatically connected to us,” Simonds said. “In psychology, sometimes there are issues that humans don’t want to talk to other humans about, but they can express that nonverbally to a horse. Some programs pair abused horses with abused kids, and they end up helping each other quite a bit.”

Simonds will teach several seminars at the Expo, including ones on horse society, relaxation techniques and training by temperament.

“I have one seminar about how to talk to a horse, which will be in the kids corral,” Simonds said. “Horses talk all the time; you just need to know how to read them and listen to them.”

Clark County has one of the highest levels of horse ownership per capita on the entire West Coast, and as our region continues to grow, it’s important to have the Expo here to teach the community more about it, Simonds said.

“I think coming to the Expo, you’ll see a lot of different people,” Simonds said. “It’s not just about training or just for those in the industry. It’s really about engaging the community. Just because you don’t have a horse doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in horses.”