Did you ever sit on a hobbyhorse as a child and play cowboys and Indians? Did you read Misty of Chincoteague and dream of one day having a horse like that? Have you ever watched the Preakness and wondered how those horses run so fast?
Chances are, at some point in your life, you've thought about horses in some way. Maybe you or someone you know owns one of the 87,000 horses, ponies, donkeys, mules or burros counted in Maryland in last November's equine census. Or maybe you're thinking of learning to ride a horse or buy one.
Whatever your interest, from today through Sunday you have the chance to learn more than you can imagine about horses - riding them, buying them, training them, caring for them. In one location, you can get everything you need to enjoy an equestrian lifestyle - or just look like you do. All you have to do is check out the seventh annual Maryland Horse World Expo, opening today and running through Sunday at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.
Horse World Expo is basically a huge trade show for all things equine. There you can buy anything from a horse-themed lamp to a huge horse trailer to a used saddle, and attend seminars (some taught by international experts) on everything from the basics of choosing your first horse to trail riding to understanding how horses think.
"Tens of thousands of people come to the expo every year," says Denise Parsons, president of Equine Promotions Inc., the company that produces the expo. "The format of the show hasn't changed a lot from our first year. We always have something for everyone, from the casual visitor to the industry professional. What has really changed is the size and scope of the event. We had 100 vendors our first year, and this year have 375. We've literally maxed out the fairgrounds facility!"
Everything in one place
One of the attractions of the expo is the vast array of vendors, clinicians, horses, breeders and industry professionals all gathered in one place. Especially for people just starting to get interested in horses, the expo offers a rare chance to compare things side by side.
"The expo is the best place to go if you want to learn about horses in Maryland, hands down," says Jodi Rauso, who teaches riding and runs Clayton Ridge Horse Farm in Joppa.
Rauso calls herself a devoted expo attendee. "I try to go every year," she says, "and I try to get my clients to go, too. It's especially great for parents or people just starting out who don't know a lot about horses. You can see a whole range of horses, equipment and styles of riding. People always come back with great information."
Rauso also likes the chance to mix business with fun. A senior business major at Towson University, she finds that between teaching, running the farm and finishing her degree, time is at a premium. "I can go to the expo, check out new products, listen to a seminar with major-league trainers and have fun with my friends, too," she says. "Even my nonhorsy friends like to come. It's inexpensive, and between the riding demonstrations, the horses on display and the shopping, there's something for all of us to enjoy."
Visiting the vendors is an important part of the expo. Hard-core horse people can see stallions for breeding, trailers for hauling and even manufacturers of stalls and barns. The more casual visitor can explore the selection of horse-themed gifts, jewelry, clothing and home decor. And everyone enjoys watching the Parade of Breeds and the displays of more unusual horses.
One of the things many visitors enjoy about shopping the expo is the chance to sample products and learn about new trends. While most of the items for sale are equine-oriented, there are a lot of things that are useful for dogs, cats and even humans.
"We'll have lots of information and free samples at the expo," says Stacey Small of Equilite. Her company manufactures natural products for animals that their owners tend to use, too. "Our Sore No More liniment is used by a lot of people for their own muscle aches," she says.
Rob Cleeton of Direct Action Co. is another vendor who will be at the expo. His company makes nutritional supplements for animals.
"We've been going since its inception," he says. "They bring in great speakers, and the people who attend really want to get educated."
Learning from the best
The speakers and seminars are hallmarks of Horse World Expo, and they make a day there an incredible value. From open to close, there is always something going on for people to watch and learn from. The challenge is in choosing which seminar to attend.
The names gathered for this year's expo read like a who's who in equestrian training. John Lyons, perhaps America's foremost authority on gentle, natural horse training, has been a staple of expo clinics since the start. His demonstrations are great to witness.