10/08/06 — Sometimes all it takes to win is attitude and a good partner

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Sometimes all it takes to win is attitude and a good partner

By Renee Carey
Published in News on October 8, 2006 2:04 AM

For 271/4-inch Splash, taking to the ring for the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair's Open Pony, Mule and Draft Horse Show Thursday night wasn't too intimidating -- even though every other competitor in the ring towered over her.

Her partner, Mark Massey, 17, of Grantham said that is just the kind of horse she is, laid back.

"She just doesn't let anything bother her," said Mark, who is a pretty tall guy himself.

It was Splash's first time in the ring, and the 5-year-old managed to bring home a Reserve Champion ribbon in her class -- mare pony.

She took her win in stride, content to let her partner brush her mane while she waited for her picture to be taken.

The Southern Wayne junior said maintaining constant contact with his horse, brushing her and talking to her, helps her stay relaxed. Maintaining the quality of her coat also helps him show off her muscle.

In the ring, he added, he has to stay alert, keeping his eye on the judge. Splash just makes her way around the ring, easy going as always.

Mark said his family used to raise Arabians, which are a bit larger than the miniature horses they have had for the last eight years at their farm, Rose's Miniatures.

Splash might be small, but she has all the right conformation to compete against any horse, no matter what its size.

"She solid," Mark said.

For Paige Johnson, 9, and her sister, Heather, 13, the showmanship ring was a little more stressful. The girls, both from Harnett County, were there with their parents, and their grandfather, Charles Aycock of Wayne County.

Little did they know, the showmanship ring would become the site of a friendly family battle of sorts.

They ended up as Grand and Reserve champions, respectively, in the showmanship under 14 category.

Paige said getting her horse, Buddy, ready for the ring was not easy.

"I practice a lot," she said.

Learning how to get Buddy to listen and to remember to keep her eyes on the judge at the same time was an important skill she had to master before heading for the show ring, Paige said.

"He is bigger than me, and he likes to play tricks on me," Paige said about her spirited quarterhorse charge.

Her sister had the calm, confidence of a seasoned competitor. Heather said she has been showing horses for four or five years and her secret to maintaining control of her horse is to stay calm herself.

"You have to keep your eyes on the judge," she said.

The eighth-grader said getting ready for a show requires washing and brushing her horse as well as the normal practice time in the ring.

Both girls said they liked competing and were glad the other was taking home a ribbon.

Their first love, they say, however, is Western Pleasure riding competition.

There was a family battle in the draft horse ring, too.

This time, though, it was husband and wife -- and there was a bet.

Debbie Stroud lost to her husband, Don, who eeked out a victory in the draft horse competition.

Last year, Debbie took home the blue ribbon. This year, she settled for Reserve Champion honors.

"The judge was just being nice," the winner said graciously as Debbie winced.

The two had more than 4,000 pounds of Beligan draft horse between them.

Debbie's charge, Whiz, weighs 1,850 pounds -- and he is gentle, content to nuzzle your pocket to see what's inside, and unbothered by any of the activity that swirls around him.

Whiz is saddle-trained. He has never done any other work except carry Debbie around a rodeo ring.

Don's horse, Joe, was there with his partner, Moe -- each weighs about 2,400 pounds -- about average size for a Belgian. The two waited patiently at the couple's trailer, content just to be with each other. At the Strouds' Seven Springs farm, they do some of the kind of work a draft horse would do. That's why they are close.

"They are a team," Don explained.

Don said he and Debbie used to run bull rides at the fair, but health concerns made them cut back a couple years ago.

They said they plan to come back to the fair with a new event next year.

They say they enjoy showing their "gentle giants" and add that most people would have more to worry about from a much smaller horse.

"If you see a Belgian that is foolish-acting, it is human-made," Don said.