Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture

Behind the Scenes of the Sunday Horse Show

Published Date: Dec 11, 2017 11:30:00 AM

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Skylar Ann Martin arrived Sunday morning at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, a full five hours before the monthly horse show began.

With her coffee in hand, she walked down the aisles of the barns and greeted the horses in their stalls. Soon others would arrive to help Martin prepare for the horse show at the center.

A veteran of many horse competitions and the show’s coordinator, Martin gets more nervous about organizing the show than the actual horse performances.

“I have to be constantly running around making sure everything is running appropriately, people are and on their horses, that the horses are behaving, the announcer has her script and order of go, that there are people to open the gates, and so on,” said Martin, a fourth-year biology major.

Putting on the Sunday Horse Show at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center requires students to put in hours of preparation – some during the week and then several on the day of the show.

The Cal Poly Pomona students who ride in the Sunday Horse Shows are members of the university’s Horsemanship Club. The club is open to all students, even those who have little to no experience with horses. Students can learn basic horsemanship practices such as grooming, tacking, and general care from the club.

Experienced riders in the clubs are assessed and assigned to an Arabian horse with the understanding that they are responsible for exercising the horse and training it for the Sunday shows. Riders are expected to work their horse at least four times a week and practice the discipline they will display in the show.

On the day of the show, riders start arriving at the horse center around 10:30 a.m. to begin preparations. This includes washing and grooming the horses so they can look their best, setting up props to use in the arena, and tacking up the horses.

Each Sunday show exhibits the same structure and classes – Flags, Costume, Tricks, Drill Team, Sidesaddle, Flat English, Flat Western, Egg and Spoon, Toilet Paper Challenge, and Liberty – although this December show was holiday themed. Some riders decorated their horse with ribbons, bows, reindeer ears, bells, and fake poinsettia.

“It does add a certain allure to the whole thing and make it seem like what we do is special,” Martin said.

“The horses enjoy it and feel good about themselves when they get to gallop around with the costumer on, and it makes them even more fun to ride,” said Maddi Ogburn, a third-year animal science student, student groom and rider.

The riders also must suit up in costumes – or, in this case, holiday sweaters for some of them – and get their makeup and hair ready in the center’s office. The young women braided each other’s hair, put on makeup, shared stories about their horses, or scarfed down slices of pizza.

“It’s bonding moments like these that I know get everyone excited about showing and remind us that ultimately we do this for the fun of showing our horses,” Ogburn said.

Then it’s on to the warm-up arena to get walk, trot, and canter the horses and get their pre-jitters out. John Lambert, the horse center’s operations manager, supervises the warmup.

Meanwhile, a crowd of spectators had begun to arrive for the horse show. They included groups that had toured the Kellogg House and horse center and had a buffet lunch at the Kellogg West Conference Center.  

The arena announcer welcomed the crowd and gave a brief history and overview of the horses and the show. Then two riders entered the arena carrying American flags for the national anthem to begin the show.

“The first couple of shows were nerve racking, of course, but it’s a great crowd and always a fun time,” Ogburn said.

Political Science Professor David Speak’s family has made attending the horse show a tradition since the 1930s – when breakfast cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg put on Arabian horse shows at the winter ranch that would become the Cal Poly Pomona campus.

“We are here today because it is my daughter’s birthday, and this is how she wanted to celebrate it with the family,” said Beverly Speak, the professor’s wife. “We brought our children here when they were young, my father brought me when I was a child, and my husband’s parents brought him when he was a child.”

“I enjoyed the show as a kid,” said daughter Emily Speak, “and my nieces and nephews are here today, and I thought it would be fun for them.”

- Huntley College of Agriculture student Madeline Dolan wrote this story.