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Saddlebreds Star at Illinois Horse Fair

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Orchestrated by Bob Griffin, trainer, Northern Tradition Farm, Minooka, IL, American Saddlebred horses had the standing-room-only audience at the 2005 Illinois Horse Fair applauding and cheering throughout their demonstration.

Griffin, atop stilts that allowed him to tower above the action, directed a group of riders and placard-carrying dancers to a jiving rendition of “Make My Day,” by Soda Club.

Saddlebreds were among 28 different breed/sport demonstrations at the 17th annual Illinois Horse Fair the first weekend in March at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The record-setting event drew more than 10,000 horsemen, 149 vendors, 130 horses for sale and more than 80 horse trailers open for inspection.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of ‘my breed,’” said Joy A. Meierhans, Illinois Horse Fair manager and a longtime Saddlebred enthusiast.

“This is somewhat of an out-of-place confession,” she admits. “As Fair Manager, I’m supposed to like them all – and I do – but having grown up with and shown Saddlebreds for years, I’m especially pleased by the reception they were accorded by the overflowing crowds at our demonstration arena,” Meierhans said.

Meierhans also is a director of Mid-America Horse Show Association, one of the largest Saddlebred charter clubs in the nation; manager of Mid-America’s Mane Event Horse Show, held in Springfield Fairgrounds in October; and she directs the equestrian portion of Chicago’s annual holiday parade down State Street on Thanksgiving Day.

Among clinicians and presenters at Illinois Horse Fair was Saddlebred professional Mitch Clark, devoting sessions to training techniques common to the saddle seat show breeds – Saddlebreds, Morgans, Arabians and National Show Horses.

Horses and riders in the Saddlebred demo were Spent a Fortune, five-gaited pleasure, owned by Bonnie Kegley, ridden by Tom Thorpe, trainer, Northern Tradition Farm; CH Marific, three gaited country pleasure, owned by Kegley, ridden by Kelly Creech; Retitled, hunt seat pleasure, owned by Stacy Stackhouse, ridden by Kara Waitek; and Great Day’s Buckaneer, western pleasure, owned by Sharon Vuinovich, ridden by Jennie Miller.

Dancers were from youth groups at both Northern Tradition Farm and Ray Krussell Stables, Richmond, IL. “They were so excited to be representing Saddlebreds,” Griffin said, “and they did a great job both in the ring for the demos and back at the booth.”

The booth looked like you had walked into the den of a successful exhibitor, furnished with seating arrangements, end tables, bookshelves, display cabinets and a video setup playing (what else?) stake night at Louisville.

“Our goal was to change people’s perception of Saddlebred people in the ring and at home,” Griffin said.

Filled with Saddlebred art on the walls and shelves, Griffin said he wanted to have lots of things that would stop people and make them want to talk. He was successful enough to collect contact information on more than 500 people who registered for a raffle – a George Ford Morris print for adults; a Breyer Saddlebred model for youth – and information about Saddlebreds.

Fronting the booth was a large hand-carved carousel horse replica of Midtown Man, the Country Pleasure Driving World Champion Griffin trained for Toni Nastali, who commissioned the work as a gift to Griffin. “This caught a lot of people’s attention,” Griffin said, “especially when we could show them a true likeness inside the booth – the photo of Midtown Man’s victory pass at Louisville.”

Everyone who signed up for information on Saddlebreds will receive a follow-up mailing, thanking them for their interest in Saddlebreds, promotional literature and a list of Saddlebred stables in Illinois. Funding for the Saddlebred participation in Horse Fair was a joint effort by three clubs: American Saddle Horse Breeders Futurity of Illinois, Illinois American Saddlebred Pleasure Horse Association and Mid-America Horse Show Association.

In addition to the more than 500 contacts and audience applause, Saddlebreds were awarded a reserve in Best Demo competition, coming in a scant 1.5 points (out of 80) short of the perennial favorite Andalusian demo.

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