With 10,000 visitors over its three-day run, the Illinois Horse Fair represents the largest non-racing equine gathering in the Illinois horse industry.
Joy Meierhans, Illinois Horse Fair manager, says the event's size speaks to a possible turn-around in an industry that was hit hard by the recession. This year's show ran from March 2-4 at the Illinois Fairgrounds in Springfield.
"This year was among my top three of all time at Illinois Horse Fair, and by far my best since the 2006/2007 downturn," says Marti McLain of Marti's Tack Shack, Benbrook, TX, who has exhibited at most of the 23 annual Illinois Horse Fairs.
Horse Fair is known for its stellar clinicians. This year's clinicians included Guy McLean from Australia, Charles Wilhelm from California, and Tracy Porter from Wisconsin, along with specialty riding clinicians Storme Camarillo (barrel racing), Lynne Levy with David Davis (Western Dressage) and Gaiting Riding with Levy.
The Illinois Horse Fair also crowned its first-ever Illinois Horse Fair Queen – Anne Marie Connelly, daughter of Kevin and Diane Connelly of Highland. This 20-year-old equestrian attends Southwestern Illinois College where her favorite subject is physiology and her career goal is MSN Surgical Nurse Management. Her previous honors include Mid-Illinois Sport Horse Organization Dressage Overall Reserve Champion 2011, MISHO/USEF combined test 3rd place overall 2011, and Miss Madison County Fair Association Queen 2011.
Connelly, riding her Morgan huntseat, scored an impressive 280 points out of 300 possible points in the judging categories of horsemanship, public speaking, essay writing, interview, and overall poise and appearance. In this inaugural year, she competed with 14 contestants, age 14 to 21, representing 10 horse breeds and many riding disciplines.
First runner up was Kaitlin Waeltz, 18, of Lebanon; second runner up was Danielle Ping, 17, of Lebanon; third runner up was Michelle Corvallis, also Miss Congeniality, 20, of Collinsville; and fourth runner up is Jessica Winter, also Horsemanship winner, 14, of Pana. Gabrielle Gordon is the essay contest winner.
Taking "Best Demo" honors among the 26 breed/discipline groups demonstrating at Horse Fair is the Bashkir Curlies, with the best stall decoration award going to the Foxtrotters.
Illinois Horse Fair is sponsored by Purina Feed, Midway Trailer Sales, Illinois Farm Bureau and Koetter & Smith, and is produced by Horsemen's Council of Illinois. Next year's dates are March 1-3 at the state fairgrounds in Springfield.