There are only so many places that you can wear a cowboy hat and get away with it — and for the next few days Centre County is one of them.
True, fashion is cyclical, but the more than 600 horses occupying the Grange fairgrounds may also have something to do with the sudden resurgence of Western-themed attire — complete with sequined jackets — here in central Pennsylvania.
The 2015 Keystone Showdown opened its novice competition on Wednesday, a day strictly for beginners that will pave way for the waves of amateur and professional riders who will enter the fray over the next four days.
Children and adults alike walked their horses through maneuvers inside the Grange’s indoor arena, trotting, stopping and walking in circles under the gaze of a judge.
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Last year, the Keystone Showdown held the largest novice show in the country — and provided a decent training ground for horses and handlers still finding their footing in competition.
“It’s a little bit lower key. It’s not as intimidating,” Brian Egan, show manager and president of the Keystone Quarter Horse Association, said.
Egan, who is also an instructor of equine science at Penn State, said that the five-day show is divided between open (professional), amateur and youth competition, with entrants testing their skills on and with a horse.
Eyes aren’t always just on the prize. Points collected from each task can increase the overall value of the horse itself and open the doors to other competitions down the line.
Horses and humans alike were both placed under scrutiny, evaluated by precision of patter, equine responsiveness and the positioning of the handler.
The remedy for all of this stress? A nice barbecue.
“I think we’ve done a fantastic job as a group making this fun,” Egan said.
Friday’s festivities will feature food fresh off of the grill and a DJ — which is just a warm-up for Saturday’s pizza party.
Clearly somebody is enjoying themselves. Now in it’s fifth year, the show is utilizing 648 stalls, a hefty increase over the 250 used during its inaugural incarnation.
Egan estimated that the show had drawn competitors from 15 different states.
Brandy Barniak and her mother made the trek to Centre Hall all the way from Watertown, N.Y., with two horses in tow.
“I’ve loved horses since I was little. It’s been a whole family affair for a long time,” Barniak said.
Barniak took part in her first horse show when she was 8 months old — her mother may have helped a little — and hasn’t looked back. She’s expecting to compete in seven events over the next few days, spending her nights in one of the many campers parked along the grounds.
“It’s my vacation. I don’t go to Bora Bora, I go here,” Barniak said.