12 things we'd like to see at the 2017 Midwest Horse Fair

We just returned from the 2016 Midwest Horse Fair, which marked the second year with the spiffy new pavilions at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Put on by the Wisconsin Horse Council, this event comes up in mid-April each year, drawing hundreds of horses, equine experts, and commercial exhibitors. Oh, and tens of thousands of horse lovers.

The Midwest Horse Fair people know how to put on an exciting and popular equestrian event, marketed as the “one of the largest three-day horse fairs in the country.”

They do a lot of things well – attracting big-name clinicians, drawing and managing crowds, and representing the unofficial start to the warm-weather (read: outdoor) equestrian season in the Midwest. This year, the wonderful weather actually arrived in time and was a big bonus. Record-breaking attendance totals are anticipated. (UPDATE: Attendance was 62,000+ and did break previous records.)

In light of the many pluses, it may be easy to forget about some potential areas for improvement. But we noticed a few. Here are a dozen notes we’d love to offer for next year’s Midwest Horse Fair, which happens to be themed “Wonder Horse.” We think these changes might make the equine event more wonderful than ever.

1. Folks are craving more horse/human interaction – In years past (before the new pavilions), fairgoers walked through the various horse barns, ducking past and petting horses of all kinds. The new layout keeps equines and non-exhibitors separate, with horses banned from the center aisles of the two pavilions. Exhibitors must deliberately lead their horses well out of the way of attendees to get to the performance arenas.

That means non-horsey people who go to the horse fair to interact up close with horses may be disappointed. Most only get to see horses through stall bars and while the beautiful animals perform in the various arenas. Sure, the new way may be safer, keeping baby strollers out from under cross-tied horses, but it sure feels sterile. It would be nice to find ways to encourage safe, but authentic, friendly horse-human interaction.

2. Please label the pavilion aisles – Sure, breed/discipline group stall assignments are listed in the printed program, as are the showcased stallions. But who wants to walk around the Midwest Horse Fair with his or her nose buried in the program book? Why not make it super-simple for exhibitors and attendees to find their desired group?

During the horse fair, a sign with stall numbers hangs above each end of every aisle in the two pavilions. How about adding an index to each sign, listing which groups may be found in that aisle? If we want to find the Buckskin, Friesian, or Rocky Mountain group, that would be so much easier!

3. We’d love to have meet-and-greets with equestrian exhibitors – How cool would it be, if horse fair attendees had the opportunity to slip outside after a breed/discipline demo and introduce themselves to those who had performed? Why not set up a corral or tent and encourage riders to linger for 15-20 minutes with their horses?

Clearly, several participants are somewhat rushed, if they are slated to show in multiple clinics and demos. But that idea may merit revisiting as well, as a means of encouraging more exhibitors to join the weekend lineup.

4. Let’s mix it up with some missing horse breeds – Can you say, “Belgian, Holsteiner, Icelandic, Missouri Fox Trotter and … wait for it … Thoroughbred?” If the Midwest Horse Fair staff took a survey of all who attended, don’t you wonder what percentage might say they currently or once had off-the-track Thoroughbreds? What a missing piece this has long been at the horse fair, even if rumor has it a group may be on-deck for 2017. We’ve been asking for years, and now our old OTTB (who did a peppy Liberty jaunt and a training clinic there several years ago) is retired, so we’ll miss the chance.

Sure, the Paints, Pintos (Nope, they’re not the same thing.), and Quarter Horses are popular and fun to watch in breed/discipline demos, liberty performances, and stallion showcases. We adore the Arabians and the Morgans and even the Morabs. Can we make room for some additional (or even exotic) equine breeds?

By the way, we became immediate fans of Ben Hur De Bernaville, the Boulonnais stallion. What a fabulous horse and interesting breed! Let’s celebrate this diversity of horses we love.

Ben Hur De Bernaville

5. We wish you’d put the top clinicians back in the Expo Center atrium – Maybe it’s a marketing strategy to lure horse fair attendees to venture into the massive and crowded expo hall. This year, the clinicians with booths seemed to be scattered throughout the miscellaneous sales exhibits. Frankly, we never even found a few of the key folks we had hoped to see, and we walked every single aisle.

In years past, many of the top draws had spacious booths in the main hallway, where horse fair attendees could interact more freely with these expert horsemen and horsewomen. Photo ops and informal Q and A chats were frequent – not to mention a certain big-name horseman’s unique form of altar call. (He wasn’t there this year. Last year, it was almost a religious experience – at least for his disciples.)

6. Please add a trailer loading workshop – We aren’t even gonna mention the wiffle bat incident from a few years back (Oops, guess we mentioned it. Not our story, but you can see the 2012 news report here.). Let’s just say we’ve seen so many non-violent, but frustrating, loading struggles (including certain equestrian professionals, whom we won’t name) that we think this might be a successful session all around.

7. Why not group vendor booths categorically? – This ranks high on our wish list, even if the seemingly random booth assignments may be intended to draw attendees to view more merchandise displays, while searching for their favorite spots. Wouldn’t it be handy to visit feed vendors, horse health experts, tack sellers, barn builders, souvenir shops, and other marketers by topical group?

8. Can you call back one of the entertaining team hitches? – In recent years, these have included the Express Clydesdales, the Smokin’ 6, Wells Fargo, and Percheron Thunder (our own favorite, in part because rock-star horseman Jason Goodman saved our horse’s life during a horse fair load-out mishap a few years back). Jason’s been at the Madison event plenty, but when he and his team race into the coliseum, it’s standing room only, gang.

9. Two words: Mustang Challenge. ‘Nuff said. We love this crowd favorite, and it’s an important effort.

10. Keep signing up favorite clinicians – This year, the Midwest Horse Fair did an especially good job with this, bringing a bunch of fresh or not-recently-seen talent (such as Patrick King, John and Josh Lyons, and Stacy Westfall) and some returning favorites (like Guy McLean, Steffen Peters, and Aaron Ralston). Dan James was missed, but he was busy getting married that weekend and breaking the hearts of 20-something horsewomen everywhere. (Seriously, his bride is a gem.)

Keep the great talent coming, Midwest Horse Fair. How about catching Buck Brannaman, while he’s in Madison this fall, and locking him in for next year’s roster? Please get Julie Goodnight, Cal Middleton, Monty Roberts, and Warwick Schiller on the line. And hello, Tommie Turvey? (It’s been awhile.)

11. We dream that you’ll bring back the evening extravaganza shows – Sure, the PRCA rodeos sell out. But folks still complain about missing the pull-out-all-the-stops night performances, when the top clinicians and popular trainers and talented amateurs showed their best stuff. Do we really need two nights of rodeo, especially when we can likely catch the same action at our local county fairs each summer?

12. Someone’s gotta fix the dangerous stall setup – OK, this is an Alliant Energy Center issue, rather than a Midwest Horse Fair concern, but it bears mention. Apparently, a fix is in the works, but it comes after this year’s horse fair. About a month prior a fabulous show horse (owned by a personal friend of ours) was euthanized after tearing his leg open and severing a tendon on the top of one of the new stalls. Sure, it was a freak accident. But it was tragic.

The stall top was apparently sharp, as that’s where the statuesque Saddlebred was injured. In addition, the stall design features an open-rail design. One has to wonder if a horse might trap a hoof between the rails. And how many horse owners want their equines rubbing noses and sharing unblocked airspace with unfamiliar equines on several sides, particularly in light of perennial EHV-1 concerns?

When the Midwest Horse Fair opened (a month after the Saddlebred’s demise), many of the exhibitors had no idea about the potential horse injury hazard (or the sad incident) in the show stalls at the Alliant Energy Center until several saw a TV news report the night before the event opened.  (This would be after they had already settled their own horses into their stalls at the show grounds). Some followed the Saddlebred group’s example and adapted their horse fair stalls for safety. Others seemed unaware.

We wish to assume the stall safety situation will be remedied before the next horse show at that venue - which will be long before the 2017 horse fair.

That’s a wrap – our 12 things we’d like to see at next year’s event.

Looking forward to the 2017 Midwest Horse Fair!

We’ll be back. We might even bring a horse again. (We’ve skipped a year or two.)

The Midwest Horse Fair may not accept or implement all of these suggestions. Hey, they may not even read them. Still, for what it’s worth, this is our wish list for next year.

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Equestrian terms: What is a brand?

Speaking of horses, what is a brand?

First, equine brands and breeds are very different things, although non-horsey folks often confuse the two.

A brand is a man-made marking, placed upon the body of a horse for identification purposes.

The word “breed” pertains to the type of horse one is discussing, such as Appaloosa, Bashkir Curly, Connemara, Dartmoor, Exmoor, or Falabella.

Often, young horses are branded at breed inspections, so that they bear the official logo of the equine breed to which they have been approved. For example, a horse may be branded to  identify him or her as an approved Haflinger, Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Irish Sport Horse, Oldenburg, Rheinland Pfalz-Sarr, Selle-Francais, Shagya-Arab, Trakehner, Warmblood or other breed. Some horses may receive extra branding elements to indicate preferred status, as with certain Freesians.

This article originally appeared on another publisher’s site, which is no longer open. All rights reverted to the author, so it appears here with full permission.

Horse breeders may brand horses with their own trademarks as well. Individual equine breeding operations may register their own logo brands for identification purposes.

Equine branding is usually performed with a hot iron, which burns through the horse’s fur (usually on the hip or shoulder) to the skin, leaving a permanent marking. This process is much like that used to mark cattle and other livestock. In fact, livestock owners have branded their animals since ancient times.

Horses may also be freeze-branded. This process is commonly used in wild horse management and as an anti-theft safeguard for horse owners. Freeze-branded horses are usually marked with registered codes identifying them for ownership, even as racehorses may be tattooed for identification purposes. This type of equine branding is frequently performed upon the animal’s neck.

Freeze-Branded Mustang –
Branded Palomino Quarter Horse –
Close-Up Mustang with Freeze Brand –
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