Fifteen years ago, Debbie Alt went to the board of her local Arabian horse club to share her ideas about bringing newcomers into the breed.
An Arabian lover herself, Debbie has known horses most of her life. “My father bought me my first Half-Arabian when I was 10 years old,” she recalls. After learning and growing with her horses, then showing as a young adult, Debbie put her passion to the side to raise her family. “It wasn't until later in life that I bought a show horse and wanted to show again,” she explains. Returning to the show ring and community, Debbie is now a devoted member, having been a club member since 1973 and serving on the board of the Wisconsin Arabian Horse Association for fifteen years before recently retiring - though she’s adamant she will still be available and eager to help her club.
In addition to a comprehensive newcomer network and support system developed in the club, one of Debbie’s great ideas to encourage the promotion of Arabian horses and growth of the breed, was the Midwest Horse Fair Class. The idea of the class is to allow hopeful participants to enter their name into a drawing to win the opportunity to have their very own Arabian horse showing experience. The idea of offering an Arabian Horse Experience Class is one that could be rolled out on a larger scale.
Debbie’s club uses the Midwest Horse Fair as a venue to collect participants while showcasing the Arabian horse. “We have an entry box and a big sign explaining the class,” she shares. “The minimum age to enter is eight (due to safety) and no maximum age. The box is filled with hundreds of entries. Six winners are drawn and invited to participate.” The six lucky winners later return to one of the club’s shows where they meet their mentor - a volunteer who owns a calm Purebred or Half-Arabian - to prepare for their chance to step into the show ring.
“Our member volunteers and their horses are the success of this program,” Debbie explains. “They’re caring people who love to share their love of our breed. They meet at the show and spend time helping their mentee groom for the class, teach them the basics of leading a horse to walk and trot and setting up the horse for halter. At noon, everyone comes to the arena and both mentors and their mentees enter the class as a judged halter class. Everyone at the show gathers around to support them all; it’s such a heartwarming sight to see. The mentors let their mentee do the work but stay close enough to help if needed. At the end of the class, it is announced that the judge can't make a decision as everyone was so good, so they all get first place.”
“The group is presented with blue ribbons and gift bags. I usually fill the bags with a baggie of horse treats, a small picture frame, a small photo book, Arabian horse literature, a discount coupon from the photographer for pictures and a small trophy. If I can get enough donations I like to add a free donated riding lesson to keep their interest going,” Debbie shares. “After the class, the photographer takes individual pictures and a group picture with mentors. The smiles say it all! The mentors get as much out of this class as do the participants.”
The Midwest Horse Fair class has been going strong for ten years, and participants have ranged in ages from eight to 81! The class has already created many memories and has been the entry point to welcome numerous new members to the Wisconsin Arabian Horse Club. “I volunteered with my horse, BB Don Amigo, and my mentee Kathryn has since been a great friend to the breed and club,” says Lerin Hendrickson. “Three years later and Kathryn is now a staff member and volunteer for our club shows.”
“I had the honor of judging this class this year,” Brittney Berget shares. “It is such a wonderful way to get newcomers involved and in the show ring and introduce our beautiful breed to outsiders. It also brings more people to our shows.”
Debbie is confident that her success in the Midwest could be emulated by other clubs, increasing interest and participation in the Arabian horse across the board. While their class entries come from the Midwest Horse Fair, this isn’t the only option. “We are very lucky to have the fair to get entries from, but the first year I also posted in community pages on Facebook and received a ton of entries,” Debbie shares. “This is just one example of the many options for clubs to get entries.”
“This class has been a big success for ten years. Any club can do this,” she says. “I would be more than happy to answer any questions from anyone wanting to give this a try. I guarantee everyone will get as much out of it as the participants.”
For support in hosting a similar class in your club or Region, Debbie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her Facebook.
Arabian horse Experience Class - Process Outline
Club advertises the class, also making local community aware of their presence, and the date and location of their horse show where the class will be held - opportunity to increase public interest and spectators.
Accept entries, from ages eight and over, to win an Arabian horse show experience. Entries can be solicited at large physical location, e.g. Midwest Horse Fair, or through other venues, e.g. local feed store/restaurants/grocery stores, online community or garage sale social media pages.
A number of winners are drawn to participate in the class, which will be hosted at a later club show.
Volunteer Mentors are selected from the club. Each must own a calm Arabian or Half-Arabian horse that will be available at the show where the class will be held. The host club can cover stalls for these horses if not already showing.
Contest winners meet their Mentors and horses at the show the day of the class. Mentors spend time going over grooming for the class and how to lead a horse at walk and trot and set up for Halter.
Class is held at lunch, and mentors accompany their mentee and horse in the ring. Class runs as a normal Halter Class.
Result is announced - everyone’s a winner – and participants receive blue ribbons and have their photos taken with their horses. Gift bags are presented with small tokens and goodies, and next point of contact (e.g. free riding lesson with local Arabian barn) is given to maintain interest.
Potential to invite entrants who did not win into community by offering them consolation prizes such as a discounted lesson at local barn, invitation to local open house or Discovery Farm to meet and greet Arabian horses, or invitation to the show the class is held at to watch and take a T.A.I.L tour.