If you’re wanting a quick look at the Minnesota horse industry, just a few hours at the Minnesota Horse Expo at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds is absolutely the answer. The 37th annual event took place from April 26-28.
I stopped in on April 27 to do just a little horsing around. Great fun and lots of really kind people. Some would say that’s just the nature of horse people. They love horses and love sharing a few details about their infatuation tool
Like Nichyla Solmon, a pert young gal from Little Falls who was dressing up Astro, her 11-month old quarter horse, before the Parade of Breeds event in the big State Fair Coliseum. Already a three-year participant in the Horse Expo, this year she brought her own horse. “Yes, more fun, but a lot of work too,” chuckled 14-year old Nichyla.
So why a quarter horse? “I’ve been wanting a horse for a long time,” Nichyla admitted. “I went to an auction with my mother. She purchased Astro for my 16th birthday.” Nichyla is a farm kid, so wasn’t concerned about space for Astro. She already has nine horses at home.
The Expo doesn’t present ribbons. “It’s just about proper showing of your animal. But you quickly learn what you’ve got to do to have your horse prettied up,” she said.
She had some good help. I talked with Nichyla in the Miracle of Birth Center — a popular gathering place for anyone attending the State Fair. For the Horse Expo, this building was full of vendors — including booth #27: EquiScentials, Horse Care Products; Dr. Thomas Tweeten, President and Director of Product Development. But Tweeten wasn’t at his booth. Instead, he was a few feet away helping Nichyla dress up Astro. “He just came over and asked if he could help dress up Astro,” she said.
Added Tweeten, “I’m a life-long educator as well as a research scientist and an old farm boy. As an older person, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some incredibly knowledgeable horse people. As a person now over 70, I feel I have an obligation to share the knowledge that has been shared with me. If I can pass that on to our younger generation so they too can understand what I call ‘horsepersonship’ which is the horse/person relationship. In my world of teaching horse riding and the relationship of rider to horse, if we can’t communicate with these horses we’re going to lose them.”
Tweeten did his PhD in chemistry and animal/human nutrition out of Kansas State University. “I’ve been a consultant in the environmental area and food nutrition area my entire career (40 years). The Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard from Kansas will be doing a demonstration this afternoon at the Coliseum. Each member of this 12-person squad are active duty Army personnel at Ft. Riley.”
Yes, Tweeten is much aware of the economic squeeze going on in agriculture, but sees little slowdown in traffic at the Minnesota Horse Expo. However, he’s concerned about the growing number of ‘welfare’ horses which no longer have care providers.
He’s a staunch supporter of horses becoming excellent therapy critters for people with mental health issues. “I have a good friend, Ryan Haugen from my home town, Spring Grove, Minn., who works with veterans here in the Twin Cities. We’re getting together to see how animals, particularly horses, can be used more frequently to assist people needing special care.
“I’m also working with a woman from Columbia University in New York City who is doing full-fledged research on the human brain and how it changes as mentally challenged people have the opportunity to interact with animals — particularly horses. She has found that a certain area of the human brain reacts to fear and anxiety. But as she works with animals, particularly horses, those areas of the brain ‘cool down.’ Her research supports what many of us in the horse world have long suspected .... horses do much to relieve tension. We knew this intuitively. Now we are attracting research scientists who can make these measurements when working with mental health patients. Just using MRI’s for example, to look at those changes.”
So how did Tweeten’s EquiScentials horse care products come into being? He said he thought of himself and his many trail riding experiences. “I’d get off my horse feeling a bit grungy and thinking my horse must feel the same way. I’d clean up with a shower. But what do I need as a scientist to mix the right ingredients into a soap which could be used as grooming products with a natural touch? That’s what led to my developing animal grooming products for horses and other household pets.”
In this same cluster was Darrel Mead, horse barn security volunteer at the Expo, but also President of the Minnesota Horse Council.
“Basically we represent all horse breeds and all aspects of the horse industry — whether it’s a little Shetland pony in the backyard or thoroughbreds for the faster ride,” said Mead.
So are the Twin Cities the horse center for Minnesota? “Yes, definitely. Hennepin County is one of the higher populated areas for horses in the entire Midwest,” said Mead. He acknowledges that as the Twin Cities keep expanding, its getting more difficult to find space for horses. “But there are an amazing number of stables within the Metropolitan complex.” The Horse Expo souvenir program lists two pages (65 stables) of certified stables in Minnesota.
Horse people are diverse too. Mead, for example, owns the Old Fashioned donut shop in Crystal. His donut shop bakes over 200 dozen donuts daily!
“Donuts of all kinds,” Mead began his sales pitch. “We’re family owned. Been there 30 years. But have always had big interest in these wonderful animals, so that’s why I volunteer my time with the Minnesota Horse Council.” But get this: he doesn’t have a horse; he has a pair of mules!
Mead’s position with the Horse Council is chairman of the trails committee. As you might suspect, this means Mead spends a lot of time working with the Department of Natural Resources on horse trail developments and horse trail maintenance. “The Horse Council carries insurance on these trail projects so we can go out and work on these jobs ourselves.”
Yes, horse trails are big and getting bigger in Minnesota. Mead said the miles of DNR supervised horse trails in Minnesota are now about 1,000. “But there’s likely lots more trails that the DNR doesn’t maintain.”
A modest membership fee is required to become a member of the Horse Council. However, this huge Horse Expo is the big revenue generator. The colorful Horse Expo show booklet numbers 112 pages which includes 40 pages of really attractive four-color ads covering everything from horse and stable equipment and gear to horse buildings, horse trailers, breeders, horse trainers, even beautiful color ads inviting you and your horse for a day, or weekend — enjoying the leisure of special horse camps with food, lodging and horse riding galore.
Said Mead, “We’re a modest staff … two paid staffers, but lots of us volunteers who love the industry and love to share our skill too.“ But the Horse Council does lots of things, including a dozen $3,000 scholarships for graduating high school seniors going on to two- or four-year colleges. “Plus, we do $60,000 to $85,000 grants to various things such as fixing up county fairgrounds. We’ve built a number of judging stands. Also, if you were doing a special horse care clinic, you can apply for up to $500 to help cover the costs,” summed up Meade.
Yes, as you might expect, there are vendors galore at this expo. Over 400, I was told, including a two-page listing of horse barn exhibitors by breed. And get this: 65 different breeds are at the Expo — ranging alphabetically from American Quarter Horse to Welsh Pony and also including eight donkey/mules.
Speakers participating in the Expo were listed alphabetically and precisely — both the time and building for each. Warwick Schiller, born in Australia, had seven different speaking sessions — each with a different topic such as “Destination Addiction in Horses”to “When You Change the Way You Look at Things, the Things You Look at Change.”
And covering all topics, the Expo booklet even had a location map of all 28 places to eat within the Expo area. A vendor with the name, “Creations By Cow Patti” caught my eye. Owner Pat Wachlin said she’s better known as “Cow Patti.”She designs, makes and markets a variety of products; but colorful and durable blankets are her specialty. She’s a 10-year exhibitor at the Minnesota Horse Expo.
She lists Lena, Ill. as her home town and she indeed is a busy lady. “I actually design the fabrics that my blankets are made from. The fabrics are woven in Wisconsin. I do the sewing in Illinois. I also do tapestry vests. I do cowboy hats with cowhide; plus cowhide rugs which I can make any way you want them.
“The industry has been good to me,” Wachlin admitted. “I don’t buy cheap. I don’t make cheap. I do quality stuff and it’s made to last. I have a good customer base that keeps coming back, so re-orders are solid and they keep advertising for me.”
Wachlin said she attends lots of horse expos around the country. She rates the Minnesota Horse Expo one of the best. Why? “You simply have a lot of horse people. And obviously this three-day Expo is tremendously popular with people of all ages and I’m always amazed at the number of families.”
Wachlin is a horse lady too. In fact, she’s a mounted police officer volunteering with the sheriff’s department in Stevens County in the northwest corner of Illinois.
I’ll wrap with a few comments from Glen Eaton, age 87, current President of the Minnesota Horse Expo. The Expo started in 1982, said Glen, in downtown’s Minneapolis Auditorium. It moved to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 1989 with the Coliseum the only building needed. “We just kept expanding to where we are now,” Eaton said. Today, the Expo uses the swine and cattle barns (only partially this year due to winter snow collapsing part of the cattle barn building); Warner Coliseum; CHS Miracle of Birth Center; west barn; Compeer arena; horse barn; and the sheep and poultry barn.
Though raised on a dairy farm at St. Croix Falls, Wis., Glen has a horse background. “We had horses — draft horses in those days. But my dad purchased the first Farmall to come into the dealership at St. Croix Falls. It was a B Farmall. Then I went into the service and didn’t have anything to do with farming — or horses — until after service I joined the Minneapolis Shrine horse patrol. We had to provide our own horses. I bought a real good registered quarter horse that I rode for 18 years with the Shrine. Yes, we were in parades all over Minnesota, plus Iowa, Wisconsin — the whole bit.”
Glen lost his horse to a broken leg when romping around the pasture. His horse was a registered quarter horse named Pine Creek Gambler.
When the Horse Expo moved to the State Fairgrounds, Glen got involved working as director of vendors. “Then, in 1991, they elected me as president.” Yep, like you farmers, Glen is the eternal optimist about the horse industry too. “It’s going to keep on. Seems more people — especially younger people — are finding bonding with a horse can be a rather genuine friendship.”
I almost forgot: 2018 Horseperson of the Year honors went to Dick Kiesner, owner/operator of Equisport horse training, Boulder Run Farm, Buffalo, Minn.
Dick Hagen is the staff writer emeritus of The Land. He may be reached at email@example.com.