Eleven-year-old Caitlin Ray may not know everything about horses, but she knows about the love many people have for them.
"Having a horse teaches you to be responsible," she said yesterday, while attending the eighth annual Horse World Expo in Timonium. "You can love them, and they will love you back."
Hundreds of people were lured by love and interest in all things equine as the four-day event concluded at the state fairgrounds.
"It's all horse people," said Brenda Herzog, a former competition rider who has worked on the expo staff every year and owns a farm in Upperco. She said she broke her back while exercising a racehorse 13 years ago, but the riding accident -- which left her in a wheelchair -- did not lessen her "love for the people, the horses and the sport."
The expo featured daily parades of horse breeds and more than 100 demonstrations, lectures and seminars from professionals in the equine industry, including clinicians, trainers and championship riders. It also included close to 500 booths in three buildings, with vendors displaying a variety of merchandise, from horse-themed giftware to saddles, jewelry, clothing, horses, trailers and even stagecoaches.
"There's such a broad spectrum of horses, breeds, accessories ... horse stuff," said Baltimore resident Jan Korotki, who was attending the event for the third straight year. "[Riding a horse] has been the most amazing thing in my life, and this is generally considered to be one of the best horse shows."
A stream of horses and their riders circled the sand-filled main arena in the Cow Palace building as an announcer boomed information about the animals' breeding and characteristics to cheering onlookers.
Visitors represented a mix of amateur riders, equine hobbyists, industry riders and trainers, and people who "just like horses," said Denise Parsons, president of Equine Promotions Inc., the company that organizes and runs the expo.
"Being able to bring together the horse community and industry is really neat," Parsons said. "You don't have to own a horse to have fun here; you see all these kids ... the kids love it."
Children were well-represented, including toddlers darting around the legs of grownups and sitting atop parents' shoulders.
"I like to come because it's fun to talk to the trainers, and you get to buy horse stuff," said Caitlin, a bespectacled sixth-grader who owns and rides Pockets, a mixed Arabian/American quarter horse. She had come to the expo with her parents from Waterford, Va.
"I've ridden horses all my life," said ranch and marina owner Dan Starliper. "The best aspect of owning a horse is being close and bonding to the animal," said the 68-year-old Dundalk resident.
The expo is one of the largest horse shows in Maryland, where the horse industry has an estimated $1.5 billion annual impact on the economy. According to the first equine census conducted in 2002 by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the state had an average of nine horses per square mile -- more than any other state in the country. Baltimore County had the largest inventory number of equines in Maryland.
Capitalizing on the expo's popularity was Australian native Mick Rodgers, owner of Indiana-based Outback Survival Gear.
"It's a great place, you get brand-name recognition, and people buy more at these shows than at stores. My expo sales increase every year while my wholesale has been steadily decreasing," said Rodgers, adjusting the neat rows of leather apparel lining his booth shelves.
Wearing an outback-style vest, hat, and boots, and greeting passers-by, Rodgers said he was attending the expo for more than just sales.
"I enjoy horses," he said.