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State Fair Destination: Year of the Horse

The N.C. State Fair and N.C. Horse Council hope to lure more fair visitors across the street to the Hunt Horse Complex this year with a slate of free activities that include free lessons and acclaimed equestrians.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
The N.C. State Fair and N.C. Horse Council hope to lure more fair visitors across the street to the Hunt Horse Complex this year with a slate of free activities that include short lessons and acclaimed equestrians.

The complex will still host some horse shows where riders show off their various breeds this year. But the state horse council also has lined up free activities with the goal of appealing to all fairgoers, regardless of whether they've ever ridden a horse. They're calling it the Year of the Horse.

"Watching a regular horse show is about like watching paint dry if you're not involved in it," said Sammy Jenkins, president of the horse council and owner of Double J Stables in Apex. 

But this year's line-up of free lessons, shows and parades will make the goings on at the complex more accessible for all visitors and fun to watch, he said.

"No matter what, you will be entertained," said Rose Cushing, host of Carolina Hoofbeats TV and owner of Half Moon Farms in Middlesex.

The activities are primarily scheduled Monday through Wednesday of the fair. They include free five minute lessons from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., those days, with local trainers. A parade of breeds at 9 a.m., Monday through Wednesday, led by the Shrine Patrol and mounted police, will include nearly two dozen breeds such as Arabian, Palomino, mini and Friesian.

Then there's the highlight show at 10:15 a.m. where visitors can watch a bit of every performance that's offered at the complex. Demonstrations include the Rhythm of the Boards where a Paso Fino horse dances across wooden boards; vaulting; and musical dressage.

At 1:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, and 6 p.m., Tuesday, Guy McLean, an award-winning horse trainer and poet from Australia who performs regularly in Las Vegas and at some of the world's biggest horse events, takes the stage.  McLean, according to a press release that compares him to Steve Irwin, the late Australian wildlife expert and personality, "offers a mesmerizing, entertaining connection between his horses and spectators, engaging and exciting them with that rare combination of “edutainment” with a dialog and passion for his craft that was the Irwin trademark." It's his first time in North Carolina.

North Carolina's Mary Miller Jordan takes the headline spot from McLean with shows at 1 p.m., Wednesday, and 4:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Her performances are called "The Magic of the Mustang."

Miller is the 2011 winner of American's Favorite Trail Horse TV show, which is kind of like American Idol for horses, and reserve champion of Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover. National Geographic TV featured her work with wild mustangs last year. Her first adopted mustang, "Lindsey's Faith, has been turned into a Breyer Model Horse toy. She's written and illustrated a children's book about wild mustangs. And she's released a song about the journey to train wild mustangs.

Fairgoers can get photos taken with the performers. There will be fiberglass horses that young kids can climb on. Volunteers will give out horseshoes to decorate. The free lessons are best for grade schoolers and up. 

Cushing and Jenkins said they hope the performances show fairgoers all that horses and their owners can do. If they are interested in taking lessons or showing horses, they'll be able to meet local trainers and get information about stables where they can take the next step.

"Horses are so much fun and they are so versatile," Cushing said. "Even if you are handicapped and cannot ride, there's something you can do with horses. They are just an amazing creature."

"And every one of them is different," added Jenkins.

Hunt Horse Complex is across Youth Center Drive from the main fairgrounds. All of the Year of the Horse activities are free with admission to the fair.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more ideas, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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