By MARK BUTZOW
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Months of work came to fruition in late July for hundreds of Madison County 4-H members as they competed at the county fairgrounds in Beulah Park, at Alexandria.
Among them was Ruthie Spooner, 14, of Alexandria, who competes in the pony classes with Evie, a 13-year-old Pony of America (POA) breed, and Ernie, a 3-yearold POA her family bought in 2015.
“I’ve shown horses for three years. We leased a gelding first. The second year, we leased another, and that year we got Ernie. Now we have Evie and two others,” she said.
Even though this was Spooner’s third year of competing, things are sometimes a little chaotic – like when she was changing at the fair from Western duds into her English-style attire (breeches, jacket and helmet) and realized she didn’t have the right boots. Like a scene from a movie, her head emerged from behind her curtained dressing area and he shouted out her problem; with only minutes until the event started, Mom (Denise) dashed off to check with other families and found a pair to borrow from Spooner’s good friend Billie Nardoni.
Despite the last-minute panic, Ernie left with a large blue ribbon on his head and Spooner took home the Champion trophy. It didn’t hurt that three other competitors were disqualified for missing parts of the required attire for English-style events.
Spooner said she rides them usually 1-1/2 to 2 hours a day to improve her horsemanship and to get the ponies in tip-top condition. Both goals are necessary for success.
“In showmanship events, (judging) is about my form – how well you maneuver your horse through a pattern, setting up or standing square,” she said. “In halter classes, it is about the horse’s confirmation – a nice neck, nice head, a nice belly, straight legs, whether it’s a nice mover. They have you trot.”
Practice is important, because it helps horse and rider learn to work as a team and because horses tend to get out of shape during the winter.
“With younger kids, you usually get a ‘dead broke’ horse for them to work with; older kids might do more of the training,” said Denise. She and husband, Todd, are starting Plum Pony Farm on 10 acres of land they bought last year.
They hope it will develop into a ministry of providing therapy rides. Spooner said her parents have plans to build a 60-by-80-foot arena inside the new barn, a move she applauds. “It keeps them in shape in the winter, so they don’t get a big, fat hay belly.”
It’s working. “Ernie has a bright future,” said Denise. “Good confirmation.”
Confirmation of that came in the firm of ribbons and trophies Ernie and Spooner brought home from the 2017 fair, including second place in Western pleasure riding, Champion in English-type and Reserve Grand Champion in the 2- to 4-year-old geldings class, among others.