Horses and people a match in Howard

Equestrians: Varied events draw the area's many horse-lovers and riders to Howard County Fair.

August 08, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Six-year-old Justice Phillips mounted a horse three times his height and calmly rode away to warm up for competition. He soon arrived at the show ring and raced the animal around three barrels as fast as he could.

"The horses he rides are baby sitters," said his father, Woodrow Allen, who took up barrel racing three years ago. Justice's horses "take care of him. They are kid-proof."

Allen, a tractor-trailer owner from Upper Marlboro, said he was drawn to the recreation "so we can have some fun together." He said he is confident his son is in good hands, though he was frightened for himself at first.

The relationships between horse and human have been evident all week at the Howard County Fair show ring, where people have commanded, cajoled, pleaded and pulled horses. Horses walked, cantered, raced, stood still when ordered. They pulled carts and wagons, jumped obstacles, wore costumes and - occasionally - refused to listen.

For nearly a decade, the fair has offered shows of about 10 horse breeds, reflecting the popularity and diversity of recreational and professional equine activities in the region.

"Howard County is pretty proud," said Peggy Schultz, superintendent of the fair's horse division.

Unlike most fairs in the state, Schultz said, Howard's offers horse shows daily. She said that over time, the fair has evolved to accommodate as many breeds as possible.

"According to the Atlas of American Sports, there are more horse shows in the Washington metropolitan area than anywhere else in the country," said Crystal Brumme, editor-publisher of the monthly Maryland horse publication Equiery. "Howard County is at the heart of all that activity."

Ginger Myers, a specialist with the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said there are 10,000 to 11,000 horses in Howard County - creating a $1.4 million business. Statewide, horses contribute $1.6 billion to the economy and create 20,000 jobs in Central Maryland alone, the Maryland Department of Agriculture reports.

Brumme, whose business is based in Lisbon, said horse activities are compatible with suburbia. Horse businesses, such as boarding stables and riding schools, need to be near population centers to thrive, she added.

In some rural areas, individuals with smaller lots are choosing to raise horses, said Sue duPont, public information officer for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Five to 10 acres will provide a quality riding facility, and those who want to operate a farm might find it easier to board horses than to raise herds of cattle or other livestock.

At the weeklong fair, Schultz estimates that 50 percent of horse-event participants are from Howard. Some events, such as the 4-H Horse Show, draw county residents almost exclusively, while open shows bring participants from other counties and states.

Some equestrians prefer fairs to horse shows, Schultz said, because they can educate spectators on various breeds. Among breeds seen at the fair this week are Arabians, thoroughbred and nonthoroughbred hunters, plantation walking horses, Paso Finos (originally from Peru), quarter horses, and Shetland and Welsh ponies.

One breed gaining popularity is the miniature horse. Because of their small size - 38 inches tall or shorter - they're easier to care for, owners say.

Tracey Bienemann, 12, said she keeps her miniature horse, My Dream's Anastasia, in her 1.3-acre yard in a suburban Pasadena neighborhood. She took home ribbons in four categories yesterday.

Early in the week, draft horses and mules were popular as handlers led them, rode them and drove them with carriages and wagons. And Saturday, the last day of the fair, crowds will be able to see the 25th annual horse-pulling contest, in which draft horses pull sleds loaded with weights.

Energetic crowds flocked to barrel racing yesterday as riders combined speed and precision to earn cash prizes.

"Once you do it, the excitement and the adrenaline make it hard to go back" to other kinds of horse shows, said Kim Manley, a barrel racer from Davidsonville.

With a fast horse, coordination and good ground surface, interaction between horse and rider is key.

"In any horse event, you have to trust what you are sitting on," Manley said.

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