HARRINGTON — For Christy Gustafson Brown and her daughter, showing their miniature horses is a family affair.
“I’ve never missed a fair and I’m 38,” Ms. Brown said ahead of the Delaware State Fair’s Pony and Miniature Horse Show on Friday.
Ms. Brown, of Dover, was showing miniature ponies Heaven and Rhett with the help of her daughter, Bailee. Ms. Brown was accompanied to the Quillen Arena by several cousins and extended family members, as well.
Ms. Brown’s mother was outside of the ring, providing encouragement to the youngest member of the family.
At 3 years old, Bailee is not yet old enough to show the ponies on her own, but Ms. Brown said her daughter is champing at the bit — so to speak — to get her turn in the show ring.
“She’s so excited,” Ms. Brown said.
The show is the result of nearly a year’s work in preparation, said Kay Betts, assistant superintendent for the Pony and Horse Department. With 35 years experience on the job organizing the show and having shown livestock herself, Ms. Betts said this year’s show is about on par in terms of turnout to prior years.
“Turnout is similar to what we had in years past,” Ms. Betts said. “It might be down a little bit. Normally the barns are completely full.”
Organizing the show posed a bit of a challenge this year, she said, as planning was underway in January. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Betts said organizers were not entirely sure what the situation would be like come summer.
“It was ever changing,” she said.
The preparation that goes into planning the shows is matched by those in the ring showing their miniature horses and ponies.
This year’s show was Hadleigh Gissy’s first and she was more than ready to be in the ring.
A Harrington native, Hadleigh, 6, was showing a seasoned professional miniature pony, the 25-year-old Feather. The duo placed third in the showmanship class — meaning they were judged on the horse’s obedience to its handler as they negotiated a series of patterns and were asked to walk and jog.
It was 5-year-old Dakota Wells’ first time showing her miniature horse Scooby. Despite her young age, Dakota, of Milton, did have some experience in the ring, having shown horses about 10 times already.
“I’m excited,” Dakota said.
She said her favorite part of the competition is “getting dressed up and pretty.”
To prepare for her show, Dakota put in “tons of practice” and spent a lot of time making sure Scooby, a black and white pinto, was clean for the judges.
Natalie Buchmoyer said one of the hardest parts about showing horses is keeping them clean ahead of the shows — cleanliness being something the judges take into account when deciding the winners.
Ms. Buchmoyer, 21, from Hartley, was showing her two miniature horses, Rocket’s Little Blast and Gingerbread. She has been showing her horses for four years.
Ms. Buchmoyer’s parents were the ones to purchase her miniature horses, thinking they would be easier to handle than larger horses. However, she called them “the Chihuahuas of horse breeds” given miniature horses’ often sassy temperaments.
The most difficult aspect of showing her miniature horses — other than keeping them clean ahead of the show — is keeping them in shape, Ms. Buchmoyer said.
“They can gain weight looking at grass,” she said.
Lauren DeKoning, of Camden-Wyoming, competed with her Irish Cobb Lenny, a 3-year-old stallion. She said she spent as much time training him as she could ahead of this show.
Ms. DeKoning said the atmosphere at the fair is her favorite part of competing.
“I love getting to see all the horses,” she said. “I feel like they’ve been hiding all year, so it’s nice to see everyone again.”