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Horse show kicks off fair week in Portage

July 24, 2018

Probably no one is born possessing horsemanship.

It took Kaitlyn Sharkey four years to hone her skills in training Braxton, the American paint horse she brought into the show ring for the opening day of the Columbia County Fair.

The bond between Sharkey and her horse seemed to involve all senses.

“When I’m in the barn, I call out his name, and when he sees me walking nearby, he perks up,” the Lodi High School junior explained prior to the horse pleasure show Sunday at the fairgrounds in Portage.

“But he always knows when I’m close.”

Recent Columbus High School graduate Holly Schoenherr — one of about a dozen participants — also worked with her horse, Rosie, for the past four years.

“She knows where I am at all times,” Schoenherr said.

Rosie is a 24-year-old fell pony with several top-10 finishes and grand championships to her name. Sunday, the horse earned two more top prizes called high points, one for Schoenherr and the other for her brother, Jack Schoenherr, an eighth-grader at Zion Lutheran School in Columbus.

Prizes were determined according to how well participants and their horses performed in various classes such as showmanship and riding and were separated by age groups, said Cindy Bahr, president of the Columbia County Horse Project, which runs the show. Students belonged to various youth groups such as 4-H and were from grades 3 through “13,” since students may participate through their first year of college.

“This is my last year showing Rosie, but they’re all memorable,” Holly Schoenherr said. Before the show started she took Rosie for a walk around the fairgrounds to get her used to the new surroundings. Holly Schoenherr said she was paying close attention to how Rosie reacted to clusters of people and other horses in the ring.

“It takes a lot of practice,” Holly Schoenherr said of the sport. “Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, what season are you in?’ But nope — it’s year-round. You can’t let your horse sit for two months and say, ‘Oh it’s show season’ and then start practicing.’”

Practice makes perfect is cliché for good reason, said Jack Schoenherr.

“Practice, practice, practice and always make sure they’re paying attention,” he advised as he tended to the buckskin quarter horse named Dutchess that he also showed.

Food also is a big factor in his bond with horses. “I’m the guy with treats,” he said of his mother’s homemade molasses goodies.

In her work with Braxton, Sharkey stressed true partnership. Sharkey didn’t win a top prize Sunday but her love for animals informs her postsecondary interests in biotechnology and also is the reason she started working with horses.

“There’s no dictator,” she said of her relationship with Braxton. “A horse has a mind of their own and you need to pay attention to how they react to things. Knowing how he reacts helps me understand what I need to do.”

Holly Schoenherr and her brother serve on the student board for Columbia County Horse Project and they encouraged people to learn more from the group during fair week. Soon Schoenherr will study business at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she hopes to someday become an advertising executive, while her brother wants to be a welder and has various welding projects entered in the fair. People — especially younger people who might be interested in showing horses — ought to feel comfortable approaching them, Holly Schoenherr stressed.

“We’ll answer anything. It truly takes a village to run this event and everybody wants to spread the word about what we do,” she said, also encouraging younger students to join youth groups.

“In 4-H, you just learn so much and make lifelong friends.”

The Horse Project is collecting food for the Portage Food Pantry and Columbia County Humane Society from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the horse arena along Superior Street.

More information — as well as Saturday’s schedule —is available on the Columbia County Horse Project’s Facebook page.

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