Equine drill team no place for fellas with 4 left hooves

At fair, demonstrations flaunt fancy formations

West Friendship

August 11, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

After the daily horse competition pitted riders against one another at the Howard County Fairgrounds yesterday, 12 members of the Saddle Gals and Guys Drill Team went into the horse ring to show what their animals could do when they work together.

Wearing red-, white-and-blue outfits, the team members maneuvered their horses in circles, crisscross patterns and one rotating line that looked like the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes with a lot more legs.

Several drill teams are offering audiences an entertaining way to enjoy horses at the fair this year. In addition to the Saddle Gals and Guys team, which draws members from Damascus, Mount Airy and nearby communities, the 4-H Spur & Stirrup club's drill team, based in Howard County, will perform at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The Saddle Up Ministries Draft Horse Drill Team, from Pennsylvania, performed Sunday.

The demonstrations are a way to get people interested in horses, said Peggy Schultz, superintendent of the fair's horse department. She said the teams help bring spectators to the horse rings in the evenings, when bands, rides and food compete for attention at the other end of the fairgrounds.

Competitive horse shows are also a chance for people to see different breeds of horses in action. Ten shows are scheduled throughout the week for Arabian horses, draft horses and mules, hunter horses, miniature horses, Paso Fino, Tennessee walking and other gaited horses, Shetland, Welsh and other ponies, and quarter horses.

There are shows sponsored by 4-H and by the Howard County Horse Shows Association, as well as a "play day" today for owners of all breeds to take part in lighthearted games on horseback. On Saturday, a contest for draft horses will show how much weight they can pull.

"I think my goal for the shows is to demonstrate the tons of things you can do with horses," said Schultz. Regardless of a person's physical shape or age, "there is something you can do with a horse," she said.

Howard and other Central Maryland counties seem to be getting that message. An equine census in 2002 by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Horse Industry Board reported 87,100 horses, mules, donkeys and burros in the state, with 5,190 in Howard County. Of those, 42,000 are light breeds most often used for pleasure riding.

For 10 years, the Saddle Gals and Guys team has brought together some of those riders to try something a little more artistic. "It's sort of like a dance to music," said Patti Mathis, president of the club. Riders have to maintain their spacing and move at the same speed as other members.

They also have to train their mounts to be comfortable working close to other horses. But, Mathis said, the group has no age requirements and welcomes all breeds of horses. "As long as the horse can move, we don't care what age it is and what size it is," she said.

Her group was formed when the Damascus Community Fair asked her and a few other members of her horse club to put together a program. The team has grown since to about a dozen riders. Even though the all-volunteer team is not as tightly polished as competitive teams that are popular in the Western United States, Mathis said, the members have fun and offer Marylanders a chance to see the activity.

Club members do not have to have very expensive or very highly trained horses, said Michele McGuinness, a team member from Germantown, so "it shows [audiences] what an everyday horse can do."

She said the activity is good for teaching discipline to horses. Her Tennessee walking horse, Tom, has learned skills that are useful when McGuinness works with a mounted search and rescue squad.

The Spur & Stirrup club's drill team, which sponsors educational and competitive horse activities for 4-H members, also started with a request, this one from Schooley Mill Park, which wanted a 4-H demonstration at its opening more than a decade ago.

That team also welcomes all types of horses. This year, the team has 20 girls, ages 8 to 18, who perform at several events each year to promote 4-H and horsemanship. (Boys are welcome and have been on the team in the past.)

Leader Joan Bosmans is a music teacher and horse instructor from Clarksville. "This is how I combine my two loves," she said. She also enjoys seeing young riders with a range of abilities work together.

"It's an equalizer in terms of abilities," she said. "Everybody has to work together to make a kaleidoscope of horses."

Her team - dressed in green and white 4-H colors - will do a routine to a march by John Philip Sousa that includes formations recalling the military origins of horse drill teams. Bosmans said that centuries ago, cavalry units used in battle had to move in organized formations, and groups of riders had to respond to commands, making them the forerunners of modern drill teams.

Today, the drill team experience is much more recreational. "We all have a lot of fun," said Carly Earp of Clarksville, one of the 4-H drill team's leaders. "We're all friends, we all get along."

"It is a lot different from showing," said Earp, who joined the team three years ago after taking lessons with Bosmans. While a show requires you to focus on your own performance, "with the drill team, it's you, your horse, and all the other riders and their horses."

She added, "We try to please the audience and show them what we can do."

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