For those who work with horses, learning is indeed a lifelong journey.
Ten years ago, Gail and Ron Barker made education the cornerstone of a program they brought to Red Deer. The Mane Event, which takes place April 21-24 at Westerner Park, will mark the anniversary by getting even bigger.
“For our 10th year, we wanted to do something different,” said Gail Barker. “So we’ve gone to four days, and added a few more clinicians to the program.”
What’s billed as Canada’s largest horse expo offers more than 150 hours of equine experts teaching in disciplines ranging from dressage to barrel racing to trail riding in the mountains.
This year’s lineup includes one of the most well-known figures in the world of natural horsemanship, Pat Parelli of Colorado.
“His wife, Linda, was one of our clinicians last year, and he’s thrilled to be coming this year,” said Barker.
The Parelli name has become a global enterprise, promoting more of an ‘understanding’ approach to training horses. But while Pat Parelli has the star power, he’s not the only clinician generating a lot of buzz for this year’s Mane Event. Barker has been a little surprised herself to see the excitement about another participant, Warwick Schiller.
“He’s been drawing a huge amount of attention. But he has a popular online video series and a lot of people must follow him on the web. He was suggested to us two years ago, and we’ve seen him at other horse expos. He’s really good at communicating with the people watching. This will be one of his first appearances in Canada.”
The Australian was a successful horse trainer in his homeland, but moved to the U.S. to focus on the sport of reining, where he holds multiple championship titles. In Red Deer, he’ll be doing several reining clinics, along with ones on general horsemanship.
The Barkers are very youth oriented, having travelled the horse show circuit with their own daughters, who now help with organizing the Mane Event. This year, they’ve added a Youth Pro Am on the Thursday evening. Six young people will each be paired with a trainer to compete in a timed relay trail competition. The clinician will ride the youth’s horse through the course first, and then the young riders will mount their own horses to navigate the first part of the course with the easier obstacles.
The youth essay contest introduced last year is also back, thanks to the repeat sponsorship of the Rocking Heart Ranch of Waterton. The Garner family offers a blue roan filly to the writer of the winning essay, which must describe in under 500 words the impact that winning the filly could have on the author as a future leader of the horse industry. (Last year’s contest attracted some 60 entries from as far away as Nevada and the Yukon. Naomi Akkermans of Red Deer was the winner.) As well, the Mane Event offers a room for 4-H and Pony Club members to gather and hear presentations designed for them.
The expanded program also means some changes to the popular Trainer’s Challenge, including the addition of another competitor, making it four trainers vying for the top honour. As usual, they will each be drawn a green-broke filly (provided by Ace of Clubs Quarter Horses in Ponoka), and a panel of judges will assess their training methods and how far they can take the young horse over the four days of the show.
“There are some fans who have come to every Trainer’s Challenge we’ve had in Alberta,” said Barker. “It’s a perennial favourite. But the trainers have just been getting better and better, so we’ve had to make it a little more challenging. So they’ll have two 45-minute sessions with their horse on Saturday, but no round pen session Sunday before the Finals in the arena.
“This year, we brought back our reigning champion, Patrick King, to compete against others who’ve been top contenders or champions in the past, so it’s really the best of the best for our 10th.”
It’s rare for horse enthusiasts of different disciplines to be in the same place at the same time, but that’s one of the factors Barker takes great pride in achieving. The program is designed to attract all types, offering education from Olympic riders like Jim Wofford and David Marcus to NFR barrel racer Molly Powell to Terri McKinney, who offers a lighthearted look at backcountry horsemanship. New this year is a session for those looking to get involved in trick riding, with the renowned Niki Flundra. Also, speakers will cover various horse health and wellness topics, plus there are farrier demonstrations and even a horse painted to show the animal’s muscle structure.
With a strained economy potentially putting pressure on the recreational horse world, Barker said she was a little concerned about filling the trade show. But less than a handful of exhibitors didn’t return, and they were able to replace them with new ones. As well, they’re able to save attendees some costs by offering advance electronic self-serve tickets at a lower rate.
To reach a decade for the Red Deer Mane Event is quite an accomplishment for the B.C.-based Barker family, who also organize one in Chilliwack each fall.
“I’ll never forget our first year, when we opened the doors and saw people lined up all the way around the building to get in,” said Barker. “It’s nice to know the horse industry is still alive and well, and we’re doing something people seem to enjoy.”
For a detailed Mane Event schedule or to pre-purchase tickets, go to maneeventexpo.com.