By Nancy Jaffer
April 17, 2016
How do you get more people involved in equestrian competition, in order to grow the sport? There’s always lots of talk about that, often without much of a conclusion. The U.S. Equestrian Federation has been trying to figure it out for years, and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association is working on a solution after a report revealed just 1 percent growth in nine years.
There are a huge number of people out there who like horses and find them appealing, but only a small fraction of those actually ride, and even less compete. Discussion of the “grass roots” usually centers on showing opportunities at the lower levels. Equestrian organizations, perhaps understandably, tend to focus on people who already are in the sport and paying dues, rather than drawing newcomers into it.
So how do you reach people who aren’t involved at all and may never even have touched a horse? Breyer Animal Creations–you know those collectable models–has a concept, and will put it into action June 18 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation’s Gladstone headquarters.
It’s hosting an intriguing initiative, Pony Up!®. The idea is to introduce children under age 16 to the world of horses, from models to real animals. It’s a hands-on experience that also includes crafts. Each person attending will go home with a model, and perhaps a desire to spend more time with real horses.
Pony Up!® will be an especially welcome opportunity for those who would like to go to Breyerfest, the big three-day model horse extravaganza held each summer at the Kentucky Horse Park, but don’t have the time to go, or resources to cover air fare and hotel rooms.
It will feature “many of the same things people like about Breyerfest. If we’re satisfied it can be a success, we can roll it out to other places in the country,” said Kathy Fallon, a vice president of Reeves International, which owns Breyer.
“We wanted to test our idea at a place local to us,” said Kathy, referring to the fact that Reeves is in Pequannock, Morris County, about 40 minutes from Gladstone. Even more important, the USET’s charm and history make it a good showcase.
For children who have never encountered horses, this is an opportunity to see and touch them, as well as take pony rides (Children who wish to ride should wear long pants and lace-up shoes.) The event might be the first step in equestrian involvement that could lead to trail rides, showing, gymkhanas and many other activities.
“What is the one thing different about Breyerfest?” Kathy asked, answering her question this way: “It’s the opportunity to be up close and personal, meet horses and their riders and talk to them when they have time to talk to you. At a horse show, people are busy competing, they’ve worked really hard, they don’t have time to be welcoming to a family that wanders in and says, `Gosh, what’s going on here. My little girl loves horses. Maybe she’d like to do it.”
After experiencing a casual and relaxed atmosphere at Breyerfest, “parents say, `Maybe we’ll let the kids ride now.’ The horse industry really needs to look to the parents,” Kathy commented, noting, however, commitments to soccer and other sports is a “huge barrier.
Yet she believes, “The more parents get the message about how terrific it is to be involved with horses and horse sports and what a great thing it is to teach the kids compassion and caring for other creatures, the more they’ll be willing to dedicate the time” it takes to keep the children involved with horses.
Featured equine guests at the USET will be two inspirations for Breyer models, Arabian superstar Oration from the Desiderio family’s Tranquillity Farm in Chester and Rebedon Farm’s Brookside Pink Magnum, a strawberry roan Welsh stallion with a solid disposition who lives in the backyard of trainer Becky McGregor in Harmony, Warren County.
Although Magnum’s model is still available, Oration’s model already has been retired, since it was a special run made only for Breyerfest. The highest-priced discontinued model, in case you were wondering, is the Andalusian Alborozo, whose likeness was cast for the 2008 Breyerfest. A customized model of the horse went for $13,500 at auction.
Magnum, a Canadian-bred 19-year-old, is as sweet as they come. Becky’s 2 and 1/2-year-old son, Colton, learned to walk by toddling along the fence line next to the pony. Every time, the child fell, Magnum would wait patiently for him to stand up.
“They’ve been buddies ever since,” said Becky, noting the toddler rides the stallion, whose offspring have won the USEF Pony Finals and various Welsh titles.
Having the pony become a Breyer model was a longtime dream of Becky’s late grandmother, Eileen Coyle, who used to write to Breyer regularly, asking for a model to be made of Magnum. It didn’t happen while Eileen was alive, but “On the one-year anniversary of her death was when I got the call from Breyer that they were going to make Magnum a Breyer. It was validating for me,” said Becky.
Magnum has been memorialized as a Breyer model for three years.
“It’s very surreal. He’s a little bit like a celebrity. Kids get awestruck around him,” said Becky, who noted people will stand in line for hours to see Magnum at Breyerfest.
“Then we come home and he’s my son’s pony and he lives in the backyard and he rolls in mud,” she said with a chuckle.
The Desiderios have had a similar experience with the 9-year-old stallion Oration, who has received comments of “Wow!” on judges’ cards and has won everything in the Arabian world and is a natural for open competition because he looks “like a little warmblood,” said Ricci Desiderio, whose son, Michael, rode the horse at Breyerfest.
The overwhelming reception that Oration got there demonstrates how effective it is for kids to actually meet such a special horse.
“We’ve got to start to get everybody in horses to get them started to develop them as riders. As they get more educated, they become more capable and move up the scale of riding,” said Ricci.
“You need to get them in the door to show them what we do. Marketing ourselves is a hard thing. If you don’t get them exposed to the horses, there’s no way in the world they’re going to get an interest.”
He pointed out that horses present a lifelong benefit to children who get started with riding.
It’s a sport that doesn’t dissolve after high school,” he emphasized. Ricci tells parents that by supporting their youngsters’ equestrian involvement, “You are investing in the child’s future.” Of trainers, he says, “We’re educators.”
The Pony Up!® program will include Hamlet and Honor of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, autograph sessions, equine breed demonstrations and a petting zoo.
Kids will have their own jumping competitions, complete with prizes; magicians, a craft activity tent and the Hands-On Hobby booth, where experts will talk about collectables, model horse showing and customizing. Model horse hobby workshops will also be offered on such topics as Introduction to Customizing, Repairing Model Horses, Create Your Dream Horse, Halter-Making and Creating a Horse Suncatcher.
Tickets are $35 per person and include admittance to all activities and a Breyer Classics® model horse ($20 value). Parking is $5 cash on site.
For ticket purchases, go to https://www.breyerhorses.com/pony-up-nj-2016. A detailed schedule is available at https://www.breyerhorses.com/ponyup-2016-nj?__wwbt=860.702.27.2.1. For questions, contact Customer Service at Breyer: 800-413-3348.