American Saddlebred Versatility Association

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Focus on Our Northern Neighbor

June 6, 2015 - Ottawa Horse Day hosted by the Ontario Equestrian Federation is a free public event designed to educate people of all ages about horses and provides visitors with an up close and personal experience.  VERSA member Lianne Picard-Poirier of Orleans Ontario participated in the Parade of Breeds with her horse Sasha. Together they demonstrated the wonderful characteristics of the American Saddlebred.  Following is Lianne's story. Enjoy!

It’s a crisp, breezy morning at Wesley Clover Park. As we pull up beside the long rows of portable stalls, we hear a few distant whinnies and Sasha responds in kind to announce her arrival on the premises. I lower the ramp and Emily backs her out and starts walking her around to explore while I scout out her stall location. Found it – a prime spot across from the main path connecting the parking lot to the main exhibition area. Perfect!

I unload my bags of shavings, bed her stall deeply (nothing but the ultimate comfort for my queen bee) and tie up her hay net. Emily leads her in and she calmly checks out her surroundings and cranes her long, elegant neck up to the top of the stall partition to say hello to her portly neighbour, Lollipop, who is too busy eating to take notice. I set to work putting up my posters and unloading various odds and ends from the truck.  

By the time I am finished and ready, the stalls have really begun to fill up – and the noise level has increased exponentially. The screams and whinnies of nervous, pacing horses fill the air, but thankfully Sasha remains completely unfazed. She stands quietly while I braid, her eyes soft and droopy.

The families are arriving in droves. Excited, squealing children peek into the stalls and beg to be picked up by their smiling parents so they can get that much closer to the horses. I overhear some of the other exhibitors enthusiastically talking about their demos (polo, Parelli, yoga with horses to name a few), but I also notice that nobody is opening the stall doors for the kids and none of the horses are remotely interested in greeting their adoring fans. This will not do. So as children start to pass in front of Sasha’s stall and ask me questions about her, I find myself saying “would you like to give her a treat?” The eyes widen and the grins are a mile wide as they emphatically nod YES! So I open the stall door, take my little mare by the halter and guide her over to the outstretched hand bearing an apple nugget. At first Sasha is a bit confused by this tiny human she does not know, so she cautiously sniffs and takes her time before accepting the offering. The little girl shrieks happily and Sasha raises her head and widens her eyes a bit – “did I do something wrong?” she seems to ask. I give her a pat and scratch the base of her ear for reassurance, and soon a small queue is forming outside her stall as word gets around that you can feed and pet one of the horses. How exciting!

 

A seemingly endless procession of children parade past her stall for the next hour and we develop a routine – I ask each child if they want to feed her, they say yes, I direct them to the open treat bag and they gleefully fish their little hand into it, retrieve a nugget and offer it to Sasha. She seems to understand the point of all this now and I barely need to hold her anymore, she lowers her head slowly to each outstretched hand and ever so gently takes the treat from the child, often knocking the food to the ground in her attempt to be as polite as possible. Even the tiniest of tots who have trouble grasping the concept of a flat, open hand or who are too excited to focus on the insistent guidance of their worried parents are treated with the utmost care: Sasha wiggles her upper lip around until she finds the nugget in the little fist and whisks it into her mouth as if by magic. Dozens of children later, there has not been so much as a nip – Sasha would have been absolutely mortified to have gotten finger instead of food! Many children pull their hand away too soon and the treats often fall to the ground, over and over. Sasha does not get impatient or pushy, never tries to eat the food off the ground, she just waits with head lowered until the children pick the treats back up to try again.

Soon it is time for our tour in the Breed Parade. Emily tacks up Sasha in her finest Dressage gear, her crystal brow band and bejeweled spur straps glinting in the sun. The pair warms up beautifully in the manicured grass field next to the ring, and then follows a pair of heavy horses into the Grand Prix ring for the Parade. As the announcer recites a pre-written speech on the history of the American Saddlebred, Sasha has her only less-than-perfect moment of the day – she catches sight of a pair of miniature horses pulling tiny carts as they zoom into the ring behind her. Her neck grows ten inches and she spins around nervously, but Emily steers her away, redirects her attention and soon all is well again. I will have to explain to her that the tiny horses are not the devil’s minions coming to cart her away.

After more standing around for pats, scratches and questions, Sasha goes back to her stall. Emily and I take turns getting food and manning the treat bag. So many children!!! My favorite moment of the day is getting to introduce my own little one to Sasha (yes, my husband dutifully brought our 1-year old daughter out for a visit to indulge me). Sasha seems particularly interested in her, probably because she figures there must be something slightly different about this little human since her mother felt it necessary to scoop her up in her arms unlike all the other visitors.

The crowds are thinning, the demos are coming to an end, Sasha’s braids have been removed and even though Emily has taken her over to a grassy area to graze, children are still flocking to her and Sasha is standing patiently, not stomping or swishing, not circling, not tugging at the lead trying to eat, but simply half dozing in the sun while she is fawned over. I think to myself “my mare was made for this”. I am so lucky to have such a special little mare, who is so gentle and kind and tries so hard to please. I could not have asked for a better Breed Ambassador to showcase the elegance, grace and gentle poise of the American Saddlebred. I just hope she didn’t get a tummy ache from all those treats!