Pomona, CA – February 23, 2012, Build it and they will come… that’s exactly what happened when the gates at Horse Expo Pomona in California opened and people poured into the Fairplex grounds for this first-time-ever event.
It was immediately apparent that this was a whole new ‘happening,’ as people stopped in awe when they were greeted Thursday morning by Project Cowboy contestants a-horseback. One cowboy even strummed his guitar from the saddle while welcoming people. On Friday and Saturday mornings, attendees were equally thrilled as the sparkly California Cowgirls Drill Team and their glittery mounts greeted everyone. “I’ve sure never felt this welcomed here before,” said one horse owner, while another one chimed in with, “Wow! Horses everywhere from the very moment we arrived! That’s never happened! I can hardly wait to see what else is new.”
Miki Nelsen, owner and founder of the event, was bound and determined to make this premiere expo truly different and exciting, from free parking for the first 100 cars each day to sprawling outdoor exhibits and vendors. “This event was all about horses and how horse people could benefit from everything we had to offer here,” states Nelsen.
Of course having Pat and Linda Parelli headline the event was like having a huge equine magnet that drew people in. “The Parellis are such professionals,” comments Nelsen, “and they really know how to deliver a program that people want. Pat’s trailer loading demonstration was incredible, and Linda’s message about how to look at a horse the way she and Pat do certainly gave insight to understanding horses.”
The three-day event made good use of the Fairplex grounds and Southern California’s extraordinarily good weather. Vendors spread their wares outside — trailers, trucks, tack, draft horse equipment, hand carved signs, fresh roasted nuts — you name it. Breeds galore strutted their stuff in the outdoor arenas, including flashy Gypsy Vanners and Andalusians doing ‘airs above the ground.’ Clinicians presented an array of topics, from dressage, jumping, animal communication, gaited horses, colt starting, reined cow horse, western dressage, team driving, to the making of a ‘super horse.’ Whatever your interest or discipline, there were presentations that fit your dream list. Overall, the atmosphere was festival-like in its celebration of the horse.
Project Cowboy took center stage during Thursday and Friday. Headed by Patti Colbert and Tootie Bland, Project Cowboy was sponsored by AQHA. After two days of elimination rounds, Friday night finals were vested with compulsory competition followed by freestyle presentations. And freestyle it was! Some of these creative cowboys lit up their horses and their outfits resembling “Electric Horseman” look-alikes, while others roped in family as cast members from “Peter Pan” — even Captain Hook and the crocodile showed up. Judges Pat Parelli, Richard Winters, Mike Major and Kerry Kuhn gave the final ‘thumbs-up’ to winner Mark Matson aboard his talented 11-year-old AQHA mare, “Smart Little Whizard” (aka “Hermione”). Mark and Hermione may not have been sporting electric lights, but they certainly lit up the audience with their thrilling bridleless performance during the freestyle finals, including working a cow down the fence. To round out Matson’s win, he was also voted “Cowboy Congeniality.”
The Book Corral at Horse Expo Pomona took on its own personality, where people could meet famous authors and listen to talks by them. “Oh my gosh,” said one attendee, “I just met Kate Chenery Tweedy, author of ‘Secretariat’s Meadow,’ who grew up with Secretariat! Can you imagine wandering down to your barn with carrots tucked in your pocket and there’s Secretariat! What an honor to meet Kate. I can hardly wait to read her book about her life with such a remarkable horse and of course her mother who owned this Triple Crown winner. And she autographed my book! I’m in heaven!”
The Trail Symposium, Young Rider Park, Horseman’s University and other educational and fun venues rounded out the full experience for attendees, along with an unmatched equine shopping mecca. Trailers, trucks, saddles, clothing, boots, feed, artwork — you name it — if it was about horses and the equestrian lifestyle, it was there. And a free ‘Park Your Packages’ allowed attendees to keep on shoppin’ without being burdened by carrying around packages.
So what’s the final scorecard on Horse Expo Pomona?
“It was incredible. Vendors were happy, attendees were happy, clinicians were happy. All our team members sighed a big sigh of cheerful relief after the event, of course,” says Nelsen, “but there was never any doubt that Horse Expo Pomona wouldn’t absolutely rock. And it did. We’re already planning for next year — we’re taking our vitamins and throwing ideas on the board. So we’re looking forward to seeing everyone January 31 – February 2, 2013 in Pomona, and June 8-10 this year in Sacramento!”