You’ve heard of speed dating. How about speed horse breaking?
On Friday, horse trainer Shamus Haws, of Utah, had only 45 minutes to win over a skittish little mare named Pepper, who had never before been broken.
But with plenty of persistence, petting and positive body language, Haws managed to break the ice with Pepper at The Mane Event horse expo at Westerner Park in Red Deer.
As hundreds of spectators watched intently from the stands, the man and the mare got so chummy the buck-skin quarter horse was soon following Haws around, letting out little sighs and snuffles.
Haws, one of 13 trainers and clinicians who demonstrated their diverse skills at the show, said he doesn’t consider what he does horse whispering, “although it might look that way to the audience.”
The trainer explained he wins a horse’s trust by “showing him you’re not going to hurt him, but that you’re going to help him get the ability to let your ideas become his.”
After establishing his “partnership” with Pepper, Haws got a big round of applause from the crowd during his first trip to Canada. About 40,000 people from around Alberta, as well as B.C., Saskatchewan and Montana, will be attending one of the biggest horse expos in Western Canada this weekend.
The 11th annual event, that goes until Sunday in Red Deer, is about twice as large as its 14-year-old sister expo in Chilliwack, because the Central Alberta venue is more spacious, said organizer Gail Barker, from Kamloops, B.C.
“We have the same activities, but more vendors,” added Barker, who noted nearly 270 entrepreneurs are at the Red Deer show selling everything from saddles to horse decor and western-style clothing.
The Mane Event, which features guest speakers, horse clinics and a Trainers’ Challenge, is spurred by the overwhelming devotion of horse lovers, added Barker. “It kind of takes you over. People get kind of — I don’t want to say fanatical — but they do get kind of fanatical about it.”
Among the show’s fervent fans are Edith Okada of Red Deer and Anna-Marie Teuling, of Bowden. The women who have both owned horses — Teuling currently has six — were interested in watching experts interact with the animals.
“Horses are pretty. They are so beautiful to watch, and they’re so smart,” said Teuling.
Okada respects anyone who can make a living training horses because she knows how expensive and time consuming it is. “But when you make a connection with an animal, it’s like nothing else matters…” she added.
Among the non-cowboy clinicians at the show is dressage athlete Peter Gray. He’s competed as an equestrian in three Olympic Games, but still feels he can learn something new about horses by watching other experts.
The Toronto-area resident was particularly fascinated by how Haws and other trainers break horses. “It’s absolutely amazing… it’s something I don’t encounter everyday,” said Gray.
For more information about the show, please visit red-deer.maneeventexpo.com