“There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

~Winston Churchill

After multiple years with a lack of horse events at the Watonwan County Fair, a conscious effort was made this year for more offerings, and it paid off throughout the weekend with substantial crowds of riders from all around the region.

Joe McCabe, St. James city manager, said he was impressed by the amount of patrons. “Those grandstands were full; it seemed like they almost needed extra seating.”

Trimont’s Hilary Carlson brought her main riding horse, Joe, even though her plan was just to practice, rather than compete.

“This will be his first time running through any games this year, although I have a feeling he’ll want to go faster,” she said. “He’s been doing games for eight years, but I haven’t been riding him for two years.”

This year, her schedule finally cleared enough to resume riding, and she’s been riding horses her whole life. Due to her riding sabbatical, she’s skipped this fair the past two years, but she used to make a habit of attending.

Likewise, Kelsey Klassen has made this fair a regular stop. Klassen, 29, Mountain Lake, brought her five-year-old Quarter Horse, Rizzo, Thursday night to work on barrel racing.

“I bred his mom--he’s all mine--but this is the first summer I’m really riding him,” she said. Though she’s been doing barrels since she was five, this was to be Rizzo’s first barrel action--the pair have recently been working on mounted shooting.

“I saw (mounted shooting) in a video, and it just looked fun, so I thought I’d give it a try,” she said. “You can use a rifle or a pistol, and I’ve only been using a pistol so far. We’re both just learning.”

Klassen added she was happy for the expanded equestrian program at this year’s fair, and she said the key to barrel racing is making proper turns. “He’s just here to practice, so we’ll just lope through slowly--that’s the point of training.”

Danielle Stamp, 24, Darfur, brought her two callow fillies, Dot, 2, and Hope, 3, to the fair Thursday, even though, “I only have five rides on one, and the other has about 60 days on her.” In fact, this was Dot’s first foray off the farm.

“They’re both young, so they need to get out,” she said. “They’re always together.”

Like so many at the fair Thursday, Stamp grew up with horses, and she said she’s happy to let them consume so much of her time and energy.

Taylor Sandmeyer was test-riding Babe Thursday to see if she could ride the horse in 4-H. She only began riding Babe at the start of this summer, but she’s been riding for five years. Though Babe is 13, this was only her second time off the farm, and she was quite nervous Thursday.

“She’s missing her boyfriend,” Sandmeyer said. “Make her run in circles (is the best way to calm her down),” which Sandmeyer then did.

It worked, too, as both rider and horse made it through the rest of the night without incident, Sandmeyer said.

Kaydi Anderson was also right in the thick of the action Thursday with her callow Quarter Horse, Addie. Anderson, 11, also brought Koda, a 23-year-old Quarter Horse. She was there with her mother, Jana, and her sister, Jadyn, 13. The family actually has five horses on their farm outside St. James, but they left the other three--including Jadyn’s horse, Chance--at home.

“I like Quarter Horses, they’re nice,” Kaydi Anderson said. Addie only entered their stable this year, and, despite his advanced age, Koda has only been in their barn for two years.

Though thoroughbreds are more celebrated in the collective consciousness of Americans due to their performance in major races like the Triple Crown series and the Breeder’s Cup, it’s the North American Quarter Horse that’s the most popular breed in the country. It also has the largest breed registry--with over 5 million.

“We have too many (horses in our stable), according to my husband,” Jana Anderson said with a laugh. At home, they have a mare they recently acquired, a five-year-old, and a recently born baby.

Though Koda wasn’t likely to see much action over the weekend due to his aged status and a testy hoof, he managed to stand majestically as the sisters groomed him Thursday morning. He also had to fend off the advances of the mare in the stall next to him, who was trying to drink his water--which he didn’t appreciate.

“He didn’t do much before (we got him), but Kaydi has turned him into a better horse than our mare,” Jana Anderson said. “She’s out there all day, and she can get him to do almost anything.”

Her daughter echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve trained Koda pretty much; he follows you around,” she said. “I ride three or four hours (per day), and I even made him jump.”

Addie hadn’t been ridden for three years prior to coming into the Andersons’ care, but she’s now the preferred horse for barrel competitions--which also happen to be Kaydi’s favorite, and perhaps best, pursuit. She’s been working the competition circuit every weekend this season, and she has a host of ribbons to show for her efforts--the preponderance of which came for barrels.

Though Addie, Dot, and Hope were perhaps the youngest horses at the fair Thursday, the oldest might have been Crackerjack--he’s 30. Ridden by Claire Clifford, he’s the best horse of her three for shows like this.

Clifford, 14, Trimont, said he’s only half Quarter Horse, so he’s smaller than both of the Quarter Horses she has at home. Clifford’s been riding for a couple years, and she appreciates the camaraderie in events like the one Thursday.

“It’s fun; you get to meet people and talk to people of all different ages,” she said. “We all have this one thing in common.”

Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan