Horses, handlers open county fair

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Washing, trimming, painting and shining.

It wasn't the scene at a beauty parlor, but at homes and ranches throughout Routt County where horse owners spent hours preening their mounts in preparation for the open horse show at the Routt County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

"This is pamper time," said Alicia Samuelson, an assistant superintendent for the event.

Dressed in fancy Western attire, horse owners were as polished as their horses, whose smooth coats and silky manes shined in the bright sunlight.

Competitors ages 15 to 18 led their horses through the parking area, patting the animals' necks while leading them through eloquent strides and turns.

While some practiced, more than 20 adults and their horses lined up in the arena, patiently waiting in the hot sun for their turns to walk gracefully out of line under the attentive watch of the showmanship judge.

Watching the competition from the parking area, Taylor Weisshaar, 12, guessed he spent four to five hours primping his horse, Doc, for the show. With his hooves painted shiny black and his black mane separated into tiny, banned sections, Doc looked every bit the fancy show horse.

But getting the 18-year-old horse to follow directions is sometimes a challenge for Taylor, though Doc gave no sign of his occasional stubbornness as he snoozed in the afternoon heat.

"Sometimes he has a total mind of his own," said Taylor, who lives south of Steamboat and spends all year preparing for horse shows. He planned to compete in all the fair's horse show events, aiming for a repeat of his success at the fair last year, when he won the youth grand champion saddle.

The showmanship competition, which is broken down into groups based on horse owners' ages, was among many events giving horses and their handlers the chance to show off.

During the halter competition, judges evaluate horses' confirmation or overall appearance. The classes are based on horses' sex and age and include a class for horses and their offspring.

"It gives them a chance to show off what the stallions are producing," Samuelson said.

In the reining competition, participants ride various patterns that increase in difficulty. The horsemanship events demonstrate how well riders control their horses.

The two-day open horse show, a staple at the Routt County Fair for many years, gradually is gaining in popularity and includes an increasing number of participants from outside Routt County, Samuelson said.

Organizers expected the show, which also takes place today, would attract about 500 entries.

Ribbons are awarded for first through ninth places with belt buckles awarded to the grand champions and runners-up. The overall youth and adult winners receive saddles.

The shows featured a variety of participants and horses that include working ranch horses, as well as horses used exclusively for showing.

"We do it for fun, it's a family thing," said Tammie Delaney of Hayden, who was competing in the show with her two children and husband.

The Western-style competition was a break from the family's usual competition, which is English riding.

While practicing with her horse for the showmanship competition, Delaney said the events -- whether Western or English style -- are a good way to judge personal progress.

"Coming to a show is a benchmark of what you need to work on," she said.

Western riding is a favorite event for 8-year-old Marley Hammer of Burns, who has been riding horses for six years. This year's fair marks the first time Marley and her horse Liza competed in a show.

But there was no sign of nerves for these newcomers. Marley, standing at barely more than half Liza's height, contently braided the horse's tail as she talked. Liza, her eyes droopy with sleep, seemed content to have her hair done.

"She likes all the love and attention," Marley said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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