I love Horse Expo. The trick is avoiding the hand lotion people. They always seem to strategically locate their booths close to a critical stairway or doorway so that they can ambush innocent browsers as they wander on by. There were at least four of these booths this year displaying varying degrees of aggressive tendencies. One of them snatched me before I could flee.
“Now, I’m going to rub some of this in. How does it feel?”
“Um…like you just put some lotion on me.”
“Compare it to the other arm!”
“Yeah, that one doesn’t look like it has any lotion on it…”
I’ll admit it—I’m a tough sell.
It was only $40—for a $120 value! But only this weekend at the Horse Expo! Did she mention that they use only the finest Aloe Vera? Did I know how many species of Aloe Vera there are? Many of those other brands use the WRONG species, a sub-standard species, but this one only used the finest, hospital grade species of Aloe Vera!
Does it come with a set of knives? Hmmm…
The gourmet food vendors are much more fun because they give you free samples. I was introduced to one of my favorite barbecue sauce vendors, Wild Rooster, at Expo some years ago. Once that sauce ran out, we went to their website, wildrooster.com, and ordered more—I love the information age! They came in real handy this year when David’s cousin re-married. What do you give to the bride and groom who already possess, not one, but TWO complete households worth of stuff? How about a Wild Rooster gift basket? They loved it.
Wild Rooster wasn’t there this year, but there was the gourmet vinegar booth. Holy Mackerel! I’ve never tasted vinegar that good! Their aged Balsamic was thick and sweet enough to use as pancake syrup. Of course, it was only $30 a bottle. Thing is—(unlike the hand cream) it was probably worth $30 a bottle! And there was no hard sell. They just figured that if you could afford the $400 pair of riding boots in the booth next door, $30 for a bottle of vinegar would be chump change.
Ah, yes…but you’re wondering…isn’t this a, you know, HORSE, Expo? They can’t call it an horse orgy because of the obvious connotations, but that’s pretty much what it is! I love that people just all mix together at Expo. It’s just this big mish-mash, hodge-podge of every possible discipline and breed out there. You never know who you will find yourself next to or what discipline they might do, so everybody is friendly and gets along happily. (Of course, what they say when they get home is another story.) But you can find booths and products and demos that run the entire gamut of horse breeds, disciplines and endeavors. You can walk through the barns and see everything from Miniature Horses to Drafts, with a little bit of everything in between. You can watch demonstrations on how to ride, how to ride this particular horse, how to ride this particular horse over fences and how to ride this particular horse over fences in the exciting new sport of…
The only hitch is that you can’t see it all. There are three arenas along with several lecture areas and demos run concurrently. Last year, I discovered a new and different way to attend the Expo when I accidentally found the link for volunteering on their web page. What do you get for volunteering? Free admission to the Expo, plus (and this is the biggie) free parking. In exchange, you work two 8 hour shifts. So not only did I have to choose from overlapping demo’s and lectures, I had to miss whatever overlapped with my shifts. This year, I got smart and said I’d help set up Thursday, so only one of my shifts impinged on my demo-viewing/bargain-shopping time. Set-up Thursday consisted mainly of hanging banners around the arena fences (I always thought they just lived there) and posting various signs all over the place. After setting up for Parelli events, I felt kind of guilty about how simple it was to set up for the Expo.
This year’s big name presenters were Chris Cox and Lynn Palm. Unfortunately, I only caught a few minutes of Chris Cox and none of Lynn Palm, so I can’t really comment on them. I’m more interested in seeing the folks I’ve never heard of or the folks I’ve only sort of heard of anyway.
There’s was a guy, Steve Rother (horseteacher.com), there who is from Washington State. I didn’t see any of his demo’s, but I got by his booth and he had all of the requisite equipment and DVD sets for sale. He also has an “Excel With Horses” club and some sort of levels program. There is nothing on his web page about who he trained with or how he developed his methods, but it appears eerily similar to Parelli or Jonathan Field. (Maybe, like Field, he is another Parelli spin-off?) Might be worth looking into if you live in Washington as it appears he does most of his clinics in that area (he even has a ranch you can go ride at).
The Driving Darby was a really fun event to watch. I got to watch the “High Speed Cones” class—very exciting. As I recall, they drove 4 wheeled carts with either one or two horses in harness. The course was very twisty/windy and complicated. There were two people on the cart. The driver (obviously) and the “other guy” who is in no way shape or form to be confused with a passenger. This second person is called the “groom,” but again should not be confused with a person who might actually wield a currycomb. Instead, he/she operates, basically, as moving ballast to keep the cart from overturning on the tight turns. Since there are many turns, in both directions, and they take place at speed, this person is in constant motion back and forth at the back of the cart, first leaning way out of the back on one side, then leaping over to hang out the other side for the next turn. In order to fulfill this position properly, it appears that you need to have the athletic skills of your average monkey. It was almost as much fun watching “the ballast” as it was watching the horses and driver.
I caught part of the finals for Project Cowgirl. I wasn’t that impressed. The final was a sort of freestyle event done to music, wearing costumes, and displaying each contestant’s various talents. Maggie Metzger could have kicked every one of their a**es with her little boy Reno hands down without ever getting in the saddle. Maybe the rest of the competition was more serious.
Watched a bit of Bernie Traurig’s (bernietraurig.com) jumping demo. It was very good. I would take a lesson with him…if I had a jillion dollars and wanted to get into jumping again. The demo horses he had were spectacular, but it looked a long way down.
Enjoyed watching Peggy Cummings. She was there in 2007, but somehow I didn’t catch much of her demos then. She is a spin-off of Sally Swift. I went out of my way to watch her demos and lectures and went by her booth for a 10 minute “mini-lesson” with one of her instructors. It will stand me in good stead if I ever need to go riding on a wooden saddle stand! Okay, just kidding there. I was impressed! I bought her book and am hoping to at least audit an upcoming clinic. She is in Oregon, but has quite a few “certified” instructors who do clinics and lessons around the country. If you’re at all familiar with Centered Riding, it is mainly about rider bio-mechanics. She really got me in the first demo I watched when she stated that a rider needs to pay about 75% attention to their own position and effect on the horse and only about 25% to the horse, to improve the overall picture. Oh, you mean it’s always my fault when my horse screws up?
Eitan Beth-Halechmy was there discussing the new sport of Cowboy Dressage (cowboydressage.com). I got a giggle out of the students he had there. If you are thinking to save money over all of the high priced equipment standard in regular dressage, you will be sorely disappointed—these girls had some really nice rigs (with some really nice price tags to be sure)! I was impressed with his discussion of the development of tests for the sport. He really wants to ensure that the tests are written in a way that supports the development of the horse to its highest level—without, hopefully, the sport becoming bastardized into one where it only about winning, and/or folks begin touting unethical or abusive methods similar to Rollkur that force the horse into a frame.
Most interesting “new face” for me was Garrick Pasini (pasiniequine.com). He specializes in hackamore training. I didn’t get to see him ride, but I attended a very interesting lecture he did on the role of the bosal, what to look for in a bosal, workmanship, construction and uses. He’s up in Janesville, so I’ll probably try to audit a clinic sometime.
By far the best lecture I attended was given by David Bodin (handyrider.com) AKA “The Horse Trailer Guru.” I saw him last year and his lectures alone are worth the price of admission AND parking! In this lecture, he talked about the safety systems in your horse trailer, how to maintain them, and some other maintenance and safety issues. I was typing notes into my phone as fast as I could. Some things he suggested were to get a strobe—he had a marine strobe (UST LED rescue strobe)—and to carry it on your person anytime you have to be out of your vehicle at night with a trailer issue. You can also place it in a visible location on the horse trailer while waiting for a tow or law enforcement. He said you should get about 3 of those reflective triangles to place along the road to alert drivers, but that they often ignore reflective devices while almost all drivers will notice and respect some sort of strobe device.
You know that little battery on the front of your trailer? He says you should remove that once a year and have it tested to see if it has a proper charge. He says you should also pull the pin to test to see if the brake system is actually working. You can have somebody listen to hear if the brakes engage. You can really extend the life of this battery if you get some sort of maintainer or charge controller that will fit in the box with it. He says cops in Washington (where he lives) are pulling people over for things like a taillight out, then testing this battery and system to see if it works. If it doesn’t, not only do you get a big, fat ticket, but you aren’t allowed to tow your trailer away from the traffic stop. You must find someone else to haul your horses and the tow company must put your trailer up on top of a car hauler. The irony is that when your friend shows up to pick up the horses, his/her trailer will also be checked, so if you can’t be bothered to maintain your own trailer, at least choose friends who can!
If you are buying a new horse trailer, you should definitely contact this guy to pick his brain about what to buy. He has been repairing horse trailers in his business for many years and knows exactly what parts fail and what problems to avoid. He says that they are often using substandard parts from third world countries. He was especially hard on wheel bearings—said you should have these replaced within the first year of trailer life and upgrade to good quality bearings. He also says they are building the new trailers with 3500 pound axles to give them a weight rating of 7000 pounds. If you think about the weight of the trailer (usually 3000-4000 pounds) and the weight of two horses (let’s say 2000 pounds) and the weight of all of your tack and maybe a water tank or bags or bales of feed, you can quickly max out or exceed your trailer’s weight rating. He says they used to make trailers with heavier axles, but have gone to the lighter ones to get around commercial license requirements in some states. So where you used to have a built in “fudge factor” on the amount of weight you could carry and the physical strength of your trailer, that is no longer the case. He says you should upgrade to 5200 pound axles if possible.
The scariest story he told (and there were several) was about a truck that was using airbags as load assistors. Some of you are familiar with these—they go on the truck’s suspension and you can add air to them as you increase the load to keep your rear end from sagging. I had them on my old truck. Just a side note—the mechanic is going to look at you funny if you ask him to install them on your own rear end! Anyway, these, apparently can be punctured by flying road debris and will deflate suddenly. In the case he mentioned, the truck was a dually, hauling a rather heavy gooseneck LQ trailer. It happened to be negotiating a turn and the airbag on the outside of the turn deflated, collapsing the truck to the outside of the turn and torquing the trailer over to the point where it overturned the entire rig and sent it down an embankment—ugly! He suggested Dexter overload springs if you want to assist the suspension on your truck.
But you don’t really want to hear about the lectures and demos, now, do you? You want to hear about the SHOPPING!
When you volunteer and work a shift during the expo, you fulfill one of two simple functions: stuff bags with programs and fliers, and: hand bags out to people as they come in. Everybody walks in past your position, so you get to see pretty much everybody who comes in. I would estimate that probably 20-30% of these people walk in carrying a large empty bag, 2-wheeled wire shopping cart stolen from some little old lady, or other wheeled muck bucket, cart, tote or even suitcase. These are the people who have been to Expo before. The smart newbies will purchase one while in the Expo. I suspect that nobody purchases a wheeled muck bucket during the Expo because they actually need one to clean stalls. Oh yeah, you can always use it to clean stalls, but its far-more-important, completely-over-arching purpose is to haul your LOOT back to the car.
A few years back I committed the mortal sin of purchasing three rolls of fencing material from one of my favorite booths, DMA Fencing, without first mugging a little old lady or homeless person for their shopping cart. I use a fence called Finish Line by BayCo. I did my old fences in Dayton out of it and am slowly but surely building my new fences out of it here. But the rolls are heavy and I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to get them out to the car short of making three separate trips. Fortunately, the owner of the booth allowed me to use his cargo dolly so that I only had to make one trip to the car. The next year, I walked to the first booth that sold two wheeled totes and bought one for $20. Best investment ever! This year, I confined my fencing purchases to a bag of connectors which only weighed a couple of pounds, but when you add on several books and a bottle of shampoo or fly spray or seven, this tote can be a real arm saver.
I like to purchase my fencing materials this way because it saves shipping. I’ve found this to be a good money saver with bigger ticket items for this reason. It probably doesn’t help as much with the smaller stuff, but if you are looking for something hard to find or something new and different, you are bound to find it with one of the vendors. You will also probably spend several hundred dollars on impulse purchases while looking for your one hard to find item! I suspect that a lot of people keep shopping lists all year long, then bring them to Expo hoping to find bargains. Some people show up only Sunday, expressly for this purpose. You see, the vendors have to pack up and ship all of their unsold stuff back to the store, so they often run specials Sunday hoping to reduce their return load. Big Jim’s Tack is famous for this. Everything is buy one, get one free on Sunday. You see these women travelling in packs, browsing the merchandise.
One will say “I want one of these, anyone else want one of these?”
Another will say “Yeah, I’ll take the other one of those.”
Now if a third one chimes in, they are in trouble…
They will spend the next 20 minutes haggling over who is paying for which items and probably another 2 hours back at the parking lot or the barn sorting out who said they’d pay for the second of which item. This, by the way, is after waiting half an hour or more in line to make their purchases. The smart ones work in pairs and have one person standing in line craning her neck to keep an eye on the other person who is browsing, then randomly holding up items and watching for a nod or shake. It’s kind of like an auction in a weird sort of way. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I got a pair of knock-off carrot sticks this way a couple of years ago for (I think) $10. The strings that came with them were completely worthless, but the sticks are nice because they are about half the weight of a standard carrot stick and behave pretty much like a carrot stick ought to.
This year, I only had one specific purchase in mind—a mecate. I have been looking for one to use with my snaffle bit. I didn’t want horse hair like you would use with a bosal, but it had to have the right feel and look to it in order to meet my exacting standards (whatever those are—I knew I would know when I found the right one), and be reasonably priced also. I started looking at the Mountain Supply booth. Almost their entire display is made up of rolls of Samson yacht line in varying weights and colors. They can custom make just about anything out of just about any line you choose by adding on leather poppers, snaps, loops and whatever other fittings you desire. As a sailor, as well as a rider, I can truly appreciate these quality ropes. My only heartbreak is that Samson seems to have discontinued the one particular shade of Trophy Braid that I would love to have a mecate made out of. Our old Laser mainsheet (or perhaps it was the Hobie Cat) was made out of this. I would have one made out of the old line except there aren’t 22 feet of it left intact anymore. They had one made out of something else that would have fit the bill, but wasn’t—you know—THE ONE. I finally found my mecate at Buckaroo Leather. Still haven’t rigged it up, but that’s another story…
Some shopping highlights:
Arena Rock Doc will come out and rip your ground down 12 inches, then run the soil through a machine that sifts all of the rock out and redeposits the sorted soil back down. It sounds reasonably priced compared to hauling in all of your footing. In our case, we will still have to add some amendments, but it would save a bunch of money. The owner and I had a bonding moment when I realized he is located in Washoe Valley.
Western Safety Stirrups LLC makes western peacock stirrups—very cool. For those of you who don’t know, the peacocks are the ones that have the rubber band on the outside rather than being solid so you are less likely to hang up in one. They also won’t torque your leg off like a solid stirrup will, if your horse falls on you. I know this from experience. The orthopedic surgeon took great pleasure in describing how my fibula would have been sticking out of my leg if my accident had happened using a solid stirrup—shudder!
Titan tire sells a disc brake system that is part hydraulic and part electric. They are also ridiculously better and safer than the brakes most of us have now. You can upgrade any trailer. He says disc brakes are becoming more standard on newer trailers, but you should be sure to ask.
Cavalia had a booth there. They will be performing in San Jose this summer. If it wasn’t for the fact that I spent enough money to ride in another Buck Brannaman clinic on tickets to see War Horse (the broadway version that won a bunch of Tony’s—not the silly Disney movie) in San Fransisco, I’d go again.
Safe Rider is the company that makes the inflating vests that operate like an airbag if you fall off. They aren’t cheap, but I priced a decent set of body armor and that’s not cheap either. These, at least, might be cooler. I bonded with the salesman there because I found out the company is located up in Sparks. And if you wonder why all the salesmen look like Harley dudes? The vests were originally developed for motorcycle riders.
Equestrisafe makes products that help identify your horse. They have a neck band now that is reflective so you can see your horse at night and also has a pocket for owner’s information so that if your horse takes a powder the first time a bear walks into camp, whoever locates it might just be able to return it to you.
Along that same line is EyeD. They take a digital scan of your horse’s retina. More accurate than a brand. Just like a fingerprint! Very cool high tech stuff!
Any tractor implement booth. I get sucked into these and have to cover my eyes and ears and chant “lalalala…” until I am able to wander far enough away (meanwhile crashing into random shoppers and their wheeled carts packed to the gills with merchandise) to break the pull of gravity.
The horse trailer area is always fun. If you’ve been to Expo, you know they added that new arena out in the parking lot last year. Why? Why to force people to walk through the horse trailers on their way to demos. Apparently it works as I saw quite a few trailers “movin’ on out.” But now there’s that 7000 pound deal David Bodin was talking about. I didn’t see any trailers advertising 5200 pound axles, Titan disc brakes and high quality upgraded wheel bearings. Hmmm…
I didn’t even look at the barns for sale—that’s just too far from where I’m at right now—but I did wander through the real barns and admire all of the nice horses. Some were there for the breed demos and some for the auction. I did catch a few minutes of the auction but I didn’t dare stay too long since I couldn’t figure out how to fit a horse in the trunk of the Camry.
They put all of the book vendors into one area this year called the Book Corral. Almost as dangerous as tractor implements! Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Ladin, the authors of Secretariat’s Meadow were there. Sunday, I took Mom’s copy along with me and had them sign it. I felt like an idiot because I couldn’t think of one good question to ask or comment to make. It seemed a wee bit ungracious of me to ask whether or not they thought the movie was “just a bit too Disney.”
So that was just the highlights of MY Expo experience this year. If you talk to 100 people, you would probably get 100 completely different versions of what went on because there is just so much going on. The only thing all stories would have in common? Stories about the hand lotion vendors!