Ever since I started riding lessons in June, I’ve experienced the world of horses from an entirely new perspective. It’s like being invited inside a neighbor’s house for the first time, after years of driving past the outside. You thought maybe mysterious witches or cannibals lived in there, but once you see the inside of their home, you begin to appreciate the actual people. Just don’t stare at the collection of shrunken heads on the living room coffee table.
No really, it’s been a fascinating experience thus far. To be honest, this side of the fence is a lot more fun then up there in the bleachers. And it’s not just about riding. This past Saturday, I got a chance to attend an horse expo – the West Michigan Winter Horsefest – as a vendor. And a shopper. Whoa, the whole world is tilting.
In the old days, I would get dragged to these things and just be totally bored out of my mind. But on Saturday, I had fun and I’ll tell you about that next time. Right now, I would like to provide a little context by going back in time and share an article I wrote regarding my expo experiences in the Long Suffering Horse Dad Days….
Every spring, our family makes a pilgrimage to a beer and hot dog stand in the middle of the state. This is something I could do on my own, but I enjoy having my wife and daughters along for the trip. They’re actually very good sports about the whole thing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the beer and hot dog stand is in the middle of a huge horse expo.
Back in the early days, the expo didn’t sell beer. Just hot dogs. To be honest, I don’t think the introduction of beer into a setting where people are selling expensive horse equipment is a coincidence. In fact, I believe it may be an example of sheer marketing genius. The beverage acts as a magical elixir that can transform the markup on overpriced stall mats into a necessary charitable contribution to the vendor community. Why, if we don’t support them, who will? My daughters have special powers which allow them to do this on plain diet soda.
In the Days Before Beer, things were different. Any item over twenty bucks required hours of father-daughter negotiation and debate. I’ll have to think about it, I would tell them. I always lost in the end and I knew I would lose, but the verbal tussle served as a source of desperately needed entertainment.
For me, the entire expo experience was a constant search for entertaining distractions. Yes, I dutifully followed the females around, moving from booth to booth, but my mind was always someplace else. While they shopped for deals, I sought diversion.
I particularly valued any vendor carrying horse newspapers or magazines. Almost from the beginning of our expo trips, I realized that horse magazines were actually two-dimensional versions of an expo. All the elements were there: vendors in the form of advertisers, clinicians in the form of articles and horses in the form of photos. It was fun to pick up a magazine and imagine the expo that could be created from it. And if was fun to reverse the process and put the current expo into magazine form.
And then there was the free stuff: hard candy, buttons, stickers, pens and pencils, plastic cups, dumb little toys, visors, tiny flags, much of it sporting some kind of logo or promotional printing. It was cheap stuff, destined for the bottom of the closet and ultimately to the give away table at our next garage sale. But I couldn’t get enough of it. In the Days Before Beer, the free things were actually the only items at the expo worth the asking price.
Any kind of video display was also a good time-killer. I recall one vendor in particular who displayed a video of a mare giving birth. I can’t remember what he was selling, maybe some kind of clean up stuff.
As fascinating as it was to watch the baby horse wiggle out there, it was much more fascinating watching the people who were watching the video. The simultaneous wincing, the head English – like helping out with field goal attempt – and the chorus of gasps and sighs of relief were highly entertaining. Group empathy is funny.
It was also fun witnessing the transformation in mood as the throng moved from the vendor area to the stallion area. As people went from stall to stall, this impatient, crabby, flatulent, stressed-out, post caffeine buzz mob morphed into a gathering of original Haight-Ashbury hippies loving all life forms and totally in tune with the universe. The lady who just moments ago glared at me for hogging up the magazine rack was cooing and awing at ¾ ton stallion. “Aw, look at his ears… he’s just so cute!” Just the physical presence of these animals acted as a kind of mood enhancer and provided an almost spiritual-like reprieve. It made me enjoy my own species again.
Of course, we always have the option of just staying home. We could save a lot of time and money just by ordering things on-line and reading articles and books. But it wouldn’t be the same, right? Nothing can really replace the real-live, face to face experience of actual 3-D people. With or without the beer.