At horse show, the real show is outside

Mar. 17, 2013 @ 08:37 AM

You come to a 4-H horse show, ostensibly, for the horses.

But not really.

You realize that when you see tiny Moranna Deal, an 8-year-old from Baton whose blonde curls form a tumbling cloud nearly as large as she is when she runs, leading a 1,000-pound horse.

“She weighs 50 pounds – tops,” observed Cynthia Collins, a Lenoir mother of two children who came to the H&H Arena in Taylorsville Saturday morning for the horse show.

Amid the “fresh, country air” smell of manure and the horses’ braying in the low, morning sunlight, the activity in the arena, where the horses and children are judged and the prizes awarded, is the lesser show. The event in the wide oval of dirt, watered down to reduce dust, gets the glory, but the work and the real action, unrehearsed and revealing, takes place along the row of trailers where the children, with help from their parents, prepare their horses and themselves for the arena.

More than a half hour before the show judge arrived, you would have seen Moranna – herself barely taller than a horse’s leg – kneel and strain in vain to lift a horse’s foot from the ground. The horse simply didn’t want to lift that foot, so Moranna moved on to one it agreed to lift.

Nearby, Collins’ children, Samantha, 16, and Vance, 12, worked with considerably less effort required to groom their horses. The final brushing, braiding, scraping of mud and, at times, painting of hooves while outside the arena is just a fraction of the overall work that goes into the getting the horses ready, Vance said.

Farther still down the row, 12-year-old Heather Lewis of Cajah’s Mountain handed her father, David, the black nail polish for her horse’s front hooves. After painting them, he stood, observed the black on his own fingers and remarked that Heather reserved the task of applying clear polish to the back hooves for herself.

Heather’s mother, Samantha, said the children consider the shows the payoff for the work they put in.

“It’s kind of like a Super Bowl to the kids – a horse Super Bowl,” she said.

Though the children perform the same set of tasks, they do not perform the tasks the same. Some are distracted and social, apt to wander off, and parents have to nag after them to finish what they started. Some, such as Jamie Slotnick, 15, whose family traveled all the way from Bakersville in Mitchell County, wear an iron look of determination, as if judging themselves and their horses before the real judge gets a chance.

Jamie’s father, Jeff Slotnick, said Jamie had not always been that way. As a very young child, yes, she was bossy and driven, but as she got older she seemed to grow softer and more timid. Caring for the horse changed all that.

“Once she broke that, everything turned around,” he said. “I think it brought out what was in her.”

In the arena, a man's voice echoed from the amplifier, announcing the time to the next event. Moranna jogged past, a blonde tumbleweed leading a trotting horse.

"Let's do it one more time, Kia!" Moranna called to the horse.

A teenage contestant noted that the formal name of Moranna's horse was Miss Kalia.

Moranna agreed and recited the full, registered name, then said matter-of-factly, "I really don't care. I know 'Kia' better than I know 'Miss Kalia.'"

The horse didn't appear to care either.