Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Making Us Proud at Breyerfest

As we come closer and closer to that wonderful weekend in late July, I now turn towards an opinion that has increasingly come to my attention while working at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Model Horse People are crazy.

Why the Reputation?

Now granted, it's a few against the whole making most of us look bad, and it's certainly not the opinion of every Park employee, but rather a slight unease some have when they realize Breyerfest is upon them. In our excitement of making our yearly pilgrimage to the Mecca of all things equine, some seeing real horses only at this time of year and never again, we come off as nothing more than overgrown 5-year-old little girls to the Park staff. Even worse I discovered, special measures are put in place to prevent... stealing.

That's right, not only do some embarrass themselves by being ignorant or forgetting proper horse etiquette as they run up to a horse, squealing in excited chatter that would make anyone recoil in fear, but the nameplates on the stall doors in the Hall of Champions are taken down prior to Friday morning so that they'll still have them by Monday. No tack is left unattended. Even golf carts are locked down! And even more recently, I fear for the Breyer display stall in the new Kid's Barn (where I usually work). No doubt some of the models there will end up "walking away."

My purpose here is not to be disgusted, or to bash my fellow hobbyists, but to educate and ask to remember some cardinal rules that will perhaps change the opinion of those who live and work at the Kentucky Horse Park and even of our fellow hobbyists. I'm going to give some basic guidelines, some may sound incredibly simple and obvious, especially to those who have or deal with horses on a regular basis, but I understand some may never have realized these rules, either through inexperience or unintended ignorance.

The Line... Yes, THAT Line

This has been a point of controversy and ill feelings for many years, but the line that develops at the entrance to Breyerfest on the Friday (and Saturday to an extent) morning is extremely crowded and filled with excited anticipation and various forms of plotting. With Breyerfest so close we can taste it, and a Black Friday-esque sale going on in the Breyer Store, as soon as the massive crowd is "released," it can border on the feeling of chaos

Aaaaand they're off! (Remember to walk *calmly* and not rush: Breyerfest isn't going anywhere :P)
Remember, there are CHILDREN and ELDERY in this line. Do NOT push and shove, act inappropriately, instigate any conflicts, or otherwise make the situation worse than it is. Injuries have happened in the past and they really didn't have to happen. Please remain calm and TRY to act polite, even when in the Store for the Special Sale (also referred to in the past as the "Ninja Pit of Death.")

One of the things I find quite sad is that out of ALL events held at the Kentucky Horse Park, this is one of the only times its fine Mounted Police are in action and ready for duty for pedestrian control. When they do allow the line to move on towards the Covered Arena, STAY BEHIND THEM. You are not allowed to pass them and if you do, they will run down any offenders and send them to the very back of the line which tends to be in the middle of the parking lot. Don't give my cop buddies a hard time, listen to what they say and follow their directions. They are real badged officers with plenty of experience and can uphold the law and order in any way they see fit.

Also, I would like to offer this helpful tip and really want to encourage this: If you are not trying to get to the Breyer Store for their Special Sale (which as mentioned before, is not for the faint of heart), have a 9:30 Ticket for the Special Items, or want to see the Opening Ceremonies, I would suggest NOT showing up until later in the morning, after 9:30 or 10:00. The line truly is enormous (as is the traffic to get in) and takes a while to get through, and Breyerfest is going to be there all day. Just because it opens at 8, doesn't mean you HAVE to be there... unless you need to be for the above reasons.

The gates officially open at 8:00 AM (though I know people who line up MUCH earlier than that), with Opening Ceremonies at 9:30 AM which last about half an hour to 45 minutes, after which most exhibitions begin. Also remember that Parking will be $5 per day unless you have a season pass to the Park.

Bringing Your Dog to the Park

I did want to make one small blurb about Dogs at the Horse Park. I brought my own dog, Casey, in the past and he did well, though he wasn't a fan of other dogs or horses, so we kept that in mind as we progressed throughout the day. Keep in mind while there is special screening processes in place to make sure horses don't have any communicable diseases, there is no such requirements for dogs. To bring your dog is to possibly expose him to other dogs who may have something he can catch. Prevent him from interacting with other dogs.

The Horse Park is used to doggy visitors and are generally allowed just about anywhere (including the Visitor's center) except the Museum and Restaurant. You may use the Visitor's Center as an air-conditioned place to get your dog out of the heat, but only for short periods of time and please keep him away from the Auction Models and Artsian's Hall tables (ask the person at the front desk if it's ok, usually it is but with all the increased activity and traffic with Breyerfest in there, it may not be a good idea)

July in Kentucky is HOT! Be aware of your dog's cooling needs (certain breeds, thick coated, overweight, or elderly dogs may need more attention) Keep your dog in the shade, avoid walking on pavement, and bring a bowl or collapsible container for him to drink water out of. There are many water sources on the park in the form of water fountains and wash racks. Feel free to use them to fill water or even hose your dog down (please ask a nearby Park employee if you may do this). Please do not use wash racks if there's a horse using it already, and remember to shut off the water and leave any hose you used as you found it. Do NOT let your dog jump into any water tanks.

A few other tips:
  • Be prepared to take your dog back to the car to hang out in shade and AC if he needs. Take many breaks and plan on not being out for long periods of time. If at all possible, consider not bringing him to the Park/Breyerfest at all.
  • It's also a good idea to assign one of your group or family members to pay specific attention to his needs. That way only one person needs to worry about him, and knows exactly when he needs his scheduled needs like water, food, or potty breaks. 
  • Please pick up any poopies they your puppy may make, lots of people walk on the grass!
  • Do not let your dog interact with any other dog and keep him away from the horses as well. This help prevent any conflicts, injury, and spread of disease.
  • And, of course, keep your dog on a leash at ALL times! This is in accordance with the Law and Park policies. Any dog found off of a leash may be fined, or worse, gathered and sent to a local humane society and will demand a "bond" to be paid, if you even realize he's there.

The (Live!) Horses at the Park

Lykle the Friesian greets Breyerfesters

Most of the Park's horses are well trained to deal with the inexperienced and most have seen it all. Most will be just fine with flash photography, petting, and other things that may upset the average horse. However, any guest horses for Breyerfest or competition horses there for a show that happens to be using the Park grounds at the same time may not be.

It is advised NOT to bother any competition horses, both for their own benefit and to reduce the risk of spread of disease. Every horse that sets foot on the park must bring with them papers to show they are healthy, but it's entirely possible that this is not fail-proof. Also, these horses are riders are in a high-stress environment and in a certain mind-set that must not be interrupted.

It's not uncommon for there be a hunter/jumper show going on during Breyrfest.

UPDATE: A special note from someone who has connections to a show that will be going on during Breyerfest this year:
This year NAJYRC (North American Junior and Young Rider Championships) is at the KHP the same weekend as Breyerfest.

These horses are NOT there for Breyerfest and are high strung athletes. The owners are very touchy about their horses at this event as it is the "Olympics" per say for American and Canadian young riders in all three Olympic disciplines. All of these horses WILL be drug tested and trotted up in front of an international panel of vets, so even petting them could cause a healthy horse to drug test positive (traces of Neosporin and other antibiotic ointments show positive sometimes). So please, do not walk through these barns and ask to pet these horses.

On the note of competition, don't stand close to the rails at the warm-up. Having people crowding the warm-up area is distracting to both the horse and the rider.

It's also frowned upon, and sometimes illegal, to cheer before a rider has completed a jumping course or dressage test. If you chose to watch Cross country, don't cheer until the horse has completed the combination or jump it is being presented to. Sometimes riders can get disqualified for premature cheering as it can sometimes be seen as "coaching."


Rules to Live By (Maybe Literally...)

The most important thing to remember is that horse are living, breathing, PREY animals. They are not dogs or cats and should not be treated or approached like one. As one article put it: "WE (people) are like dogs or cats. We are predators. Predators like to do new things. Horses do not like new things, as new things usually mean the death of them." Learn the safety rules and proper conduct when in the presence of the real thing.
Now is not a good time: The horse is agitated and defiant.
  • Ask whoever is handling/riding a horse if you may approach. It may not be a good time to come visit if the horse is being restless, scared, preparing for a presentation, or being worked on with grooming, hoof trimming, or saddling/tacking up.
  • Always walk calmly, not run, up to a horse. Running up to a horse means you may be a predator and he may try to defend himself.
  • Always approach a horse from the front or slightly from the side, never from behind. Be sure to always be in view of his eyeballs so he's not surprised by someone popping into his vision. This goes double for horses wearing blinkers/blinders in harness, like the draft horses pulling the trolley.
    +Horses cannot see directly behind them or in a small blind spot directly in front of their face. Be aware of this if you reach a hand up to pet them.
  • Watch a horse's body language. Ears, neck position, and tail all tell how the horse feels about your being in his space.
    +Pricked ears, ears to the side, or slightly back are fine.
    +Ears pinned back against his neck is not.
    +Stiffening of the neck, raising his head out of reach, or avoiding you altogether means you should take the hint and leave him be for a minute.
    +Eyes wide ( I would say "with eye-whites showing" but some horses, like Appaloosas and pintos, have eye-white that shows no matter what, so just be aware) Half-closed eyes means the horse is very relaxed or might even be dozing. Leaving a sleeping horse lie is also a good idea, as it's only polite.
    +A swishing tail (when not swatting at flies) is also a bad sign.
  • Good places to pet a horse is on the nose, face, forehead, and neck. Avoid the ears and eyes as some horses are sensitive about them. Make sure he sees your hand before you reach up between his eyes (a blind spot) or he may be surprised.
Petting done right, such a happy, relaxed horse!
  • Never walk behind a horse. If you need to, try to stay back at least 10 feet and TALK to them. Say whatever you want, just make a little noise so they can listen for you. Another way of going behind a horse is to keep your body close and keep a hand on his rump and you go behind. The idea behind this is instead of gaining some steam for a kick, the horse can only (roughly) "nudge" you away. This is NOT recommended for those not use to horses and is to be avoided if at all possible.
  • Watch your feet. Make sure that your feet are one full, adult-sized step away from the horse's base. Horses like to shift weight or move restlessly, so be prepared and watch to see if a horse is planning to take a step so your feet aren't under them. ESPECIALLY if you are wearing sandels or flip-flops.
  • DO NOT HAND FEED THE HORSES. This is a Park rule to insure that the horses don't start getting nippy whenever hands are put near their mouth. These horses are usually well trained to be petted on the face and nose, and it's ok to do so. But if they expect hands to have food, a hand may become food. Save your fingers and keep your apples, carrots, and peppermints to yourself.
    +In fact, don't feed the horses AT ALL. Horses have much different digestive systems from ours. They cannot burp or throw up, so if something disagrees with them, they can colic, which is very serious and may even cause death.
  • Keep an eye on your children and dogs. Just because you know what to do doesn't mean they will, even if they don't mean to cause harm. Some dogs are threatened by horses. Some children think all animals are big fluffy stuffed animals that wouldn't dare hurt them. So watch your child or dog to make sure they don't go darting in a horse's path or worse. Serious injury or death is a big possibility.
Nick and Lou, the Clydesdales. Also, remember to say "Hi" to my buddy Harold the Tour Guide!

  • The Horse-Drawn Tour Trolley does not stop. If you see it coming, get out of the way or risk getting run over. If you are riding the trolley and one of your items falls off, again, the trolley does not stop. It's unsafe to stop or jump off anywhere on the trolley route, especially on a hill, as it puts strain on the horses and risks injury to you. (Note: the Trolley Tour is not available to Breyerfest attendees unless you pay for a Park admission ticket, due to the sheer load of people they would have to haul if it was open to all Breyerfest ticket holders.)
  • And this really goes without saying but it has happened: Do NOT open and/or enter any stall or paddock, either by the gate or hopping over the fence. Only Park employees are allowed to do this for obvious safety reasons. They are experienced horse people and trained professionals. I don't care if you "have horses yourself," it is incredibly inappropriate and unsafe.


Stealing is Wrong and Makes Baby Ponies Cry

As for the theft, there's nothing I can say here that will deter those who steal from doing such things. I can only remind that the Kentucky Horse Park is a state park (owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky) that relies heavily on donation and a small amount of funding. Anytime something is stolen from the Park, it's the horses themselves that takes a hit.

The Cuteness! Its... so... FUZZY!

Kentucky State Taxes do not support the horses' feed, equipment, and other needs. That is funding through the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation (previously the Man O' War Foundation). And like most funding sources, the money is hardly ever-flowing. It's not uncommon for Park staff to pay for things they need with their own money, and as state employees, they don't get paid much.

I would like to make a note here; anyone can make a donation at any time, please ask in the Visitor's Center if this is something you would like to do so the Park can keep on running!
The Kentucky Horse Park wins at "model horses" in their life-size bronze statues.
(Reminder: Please refrain from climbing on or sitting on the statues. They are works of art, not playground equipment)

Breyer is responsible, however, for the models in their stall in the Kid's Barn. However, those models are there to teach, inspire, and spread the love of model horses to the next generation. Even though Breyerfest is packed, with hobbyists, without sparking the fire in the children that discover the hobby and what it has to offer in the first place, we risk the future of our hobby.

Not saying a missing model or two will do this, but who knows if it was that model that a child really connected with and wanted to learn more. Plus, hard to have a Breyer stall without Breyers. Don't ruin their fun, don't pick up or take any models from the Kid's Barn.

All in all, we are VERY lucky that the prestigious Kentucky Horse Park agrees to host Breyerfest, without them, I don't Breyerfest could exist, or in the very least, could not be the same at all. Please respect our host and don't do anything to make them think twice about allowing our event to happen.

In Conclusion (AKA the Real Message):

I hope this year we can show those "real horse people" that we do indeed have some restraint and composure, that the only "crazy" thing about us is our quirky, fun-loving personalities and prices we pay for "just a plastic horse." It's because of the hobby that I owe much of my knowledge, understanding, and love of real horses, and it's helped me get a job I love, so I want to make sure that everyone can help us prove that we are serious horse lovers who strive for knowledge and beauty and not reckless children who never grew up.

Most importantly, the "real" horse people don't understand the hobby in general. How can you have a connection to these inanimate objects? Why pay prices that could be better spent on a new saddle or even a whole new, well-trained horse!? Why choose to clutter our houses with plastic when we could be out riding? For some hobbyists, we don't have these options, either due to finances, living arrangements, or physical abilities. For some, it's a personal choice to love horses from afar but with no desire to actually work with them hands on.

Even in freezing temperatues, horses gotta eat!

Ironically, it's our enthusiasm, and general "excited" behavior around the horse people makes them discredit us. We look like such newbs! Real-horse-owning hobbyists aside, we may be book smart about the equine, but do we actually know what we're talking about? Can we conduct ourselves correctly and even expertly in the presence of the pros? We lack the true, hands on experience in their eyes, and perhaps even the true dedication that's in their hearts. Not everyone would be willing to wake up at 5 A.M., get absolutely filthy, get their clothes soaked with sweat, or chip ice from water troughs just for a large hairy beast. But true horse people do, so really it's exchanging one brand of crazy for another. I, myself, dip a toe in both of these insanity pools.

I have felt this general vibe myself as I straddle the two worlds. But, the further I prove myself in one, it actually helps solidify and strengthen my connection to the other. I feel I have a very good understanding of what's expected from each group and by following the guidlines and tips I have written here, it will help better our image as a whole and make prime examples of why our hobby is so great!

Melanie Miller works diligently in the Artisian's Gallery

PLEASE share this post with all your friends planning to go to Breyerfest. I would love for everyone to be aware and showcase themselves as a wonderful representative of our hobby. That out love for horses goes beyond handling and collecting equine-shaped-objects, but to truly understanding the beautiful animals we all fell in love with as kids.

Have fun and I hope to meet some of you at Breyerfest this year!!!