COLUMBIA – Two riders galloped their chestnut colored horses around a sandy arena at the Boone County Fairgrounds, firmly grasping American flags as the National Anthem played over the loudspeakers. The horses twisted, turned and kicked up clouds of dust as they spun in circles and halted abruptly. As the song came to a close, the riders lined up their steeds in the center of the arena, facing the crowd, which clapped loudly at the display.
As the two rode out, a fresh line of horses was led into the ring, ready for the first event of the Youth Fun Horse and Pony Show at the Boone County Fair.
The show, held at 1 p.m. Saturday, featured a wide variety of riders and horses. The riders, all 18 years old or younger, were divided into four age groups. The horses and ponies were diverse as well, with small dappled ponies standing next to tall quarter horses and even a short mule.
The dress code was equally casual, with some riders wearing brightly colored Polo dress shirts and jeans and others wearing T-shirts and large, shiny belt buckles. Spectators shuffled through the dust to and from the arena, fetching plates piled high with onion rings and cheeseburgers while waiting for their family members or friends to start riding.
Bailey Peters, 13, has been riding horses for seven years on her family farm in Harrisburg. She sat patiently on the metal bleachers with her family as she waited for her events, western pleasure and barrel racing, to begin.
"In western pleasure, you walk your horse along the outside of the ring," Peters said. "Then you trot and canter when they tell you to."
Barrel racing is one of the show's more exciting events, requiring participants to race their horses one by one in a particular pattern through the arena, turning sharply around a series of barrels.
Peters grew up around horses and always wanted to have one of her own. Now she has a quarter horse named Smokey that she has been riding for two years.
Not all of the show's participants were quite as experienced as Peters.
Maggie Condict, 5, has been riding horses for almost a year. The Youth Fun Horse and Pony Show was Maggie's first show, where she participated in the leadline class.
Maggie sat eagerly atop her palomino quarter horse Blondie, asking her father, Travis Condict, when she could start moving. Maggie's blond pigtails were decorated with poofs of pink sparkles and ribbon, and her cream-colored horse's mane was delicately braided.
"Maggie makes (Blondie) go and go wherever she wants," Travis Condict said. The entire Condict family attended the show and three of the four daughters rode in it.
Travis Condict stood close to his horse, holding the lead in his hand, fully prepared for his part in his daughter's event. He and other experienced riders led the horses and their young riders around the ring.
"She's got to sit up and smile," Condict said, explaining his daughter's role in the event. "It's going to be pretty basic."
Maggie, along with every participant in the leadline class, received a blue ribbon and a gold dollar.