Good horsemanship displayed during Washington County Horse Council Open Show
Emily Mawson, 7, of Hagerstown shows her miniature horse "Jake" in the Washington County Horse Council Open Show at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike. (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer / August 18, 2012)
They wanted one that was compact and powerful, mannerly and beautiful. The resulting horse, which eventually was dubbed the Gypsy Vanner, was used to pull the gypsies’ covered wagons or caravans.
On Saturday, a Gypsy Vanner named Indigo pulled 13-year-old Sophia Bartell in a two-wheel cart at the Washington County Horse Council Open Show at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike.
When Sophia first got Indigo, she rode the horse English, a formal style rooted in European mounted military tradition. It went well, but with Indigo’s build and temperament suited for pleasure driving, Sophia wanted to give a cart a try. She began training and approached the council about adding the style to the open show.
LeAnn Johnson of the horse council said the show is open to riders of all ages and skills levels, to horses of all breeds and to various styles of riding. So pleasure driving was added.
“Pleasure driving is becoming like a lost art,” said Lisa Bartell, Sophia’s mother. “I’m hoping Sophia’s interest will raise interest.”
Perched on a seat between two large wheels, Sophia led Indigo through an obstacle driving course. As she neared a mailbox where she was to stop and remove an envelope thus showing her ability to control the horse, Indigo stopped a bit early to investigate the box herself.
“She is looking for a treat,” Lisa Bartell said with a laugh.
Indigo was more obedient, however, at another stop, where Sophia stopped to pick up a raincoat from the ground while remaining in the cart.
“That’s very scary for a horse,” Johnson said. “They think the raincoat is a monster that can get them.”
Following the class, judge Tam Ilg of Kearneysville, W.Va., demonstrated strategies for improvement.
“I like to take the time to teach drivers, to give them an opportunity to learn to negotiate obstacles better,” said Ilg, who has placed nationally in combined driving events. “If you make it a learning experience, they’ll be willing to try something new again next time.”
Also adding flavor to the show was Mark Miller, 49, of Boonsboro, and his horse, Road Rage, the only Tennessee Walker competing. As rider and horse exited the ring following the Adult Pleasure class, the sun shone on a checkerboard pattern combed into the horse’s back.
“I just like to keep him looking as good as I can,” Miller said. “The others are pickup trucks. Tennessee Walkers are Cadillacs.”
The breed is a gaited horse, which is famous for its smooth, almost gliding ride, Johnson said.
Around 40 riders participated in the show. Trailers and horse tack lined the green hills surrounding the ring, and spectators relaxed on bleachers and in lawn chairs.
Johnson said when she moved to the area 15 years ago, there weren’t many opportunities for local riders to participate in shows. She and other enthusiasts started the Washington Council Horse Council in 2003, hosting one show that year. This year, the group hosted two open shows and about 10 other events, including hunter/jumper shows, dressage shows and clinics.
“Our goal is to promote knowledge and appropriate handling of horses. It’s been well-received and we’ve really expanded,” Johnson said. “The only things we haven’t tried so far are like, polo, and that’s just a matter of facilities.”
Rachel Weltman, 12, of Middletown, Md., tried to calm her nerves as she fed Griffen, her Appendix Quarter Horse. The thoroughbred had bucked during jumping practice, probably because Rachel had been on vacation and had not been riding for a week. Rachel’s mother said such experience teaches young riders responsibility and confidence.
Amanda McCauley, 21, of Clear Spring, placed first in the Senior English All-day walk/trot class with Only in Your Dreams, an Appendix Quarter Horse she got just two weeks ago. McCauley said she loves competing in the horse council shows.
“They are welcoming to everybody, to every breed. Not snotty,” she said.
After more than 50 years competing in English jumper classes and speed events such as barrel racing and pole bending, Shirley Hovermale, 77, of Hagerstown, competed Saturday in the relatively tamer performance and driving classes. The national award winner sported a flowered hat as she hung each of the day’s four blue ribbons on the vehicle pulling her trailer. Then, she fawned over her miniatures, Classy and Magic.
“I’ve been competing for over 50 years and I love it, and I’m not about to quit until I have to,” she said.
Her husband, Don Hovermale, has seen her through the shows and commended the horse council for the quality of its events.
“The announcer, the judges do a wonderful job,” he said. “And the kids do good jobs. Most of the kids could go anywhere and do a good job and win.”