April 27, 2014

Hoofin' it:

Miniature horse relearns the steps after illness, injury

Jessica Lane, Staff Writer,
The Express-Star

— In his stall before the show, Knells Gentleman Jack may look like a bit of a superhero in his mask and blanket.

And he just might be.

At 31 inches tall, Jack trots into the ring as "Good Golly Miss Molly" resonates throughout the building at the Grady County Fairgrounds. In big circles punctuated by gleeful whinnies, Jack performs his dance during the liberty class at the Miniature Horse Show.

Jack knows a thing or two about liberty. He has danced with death–and escaped–more than once, according to his owner and friend, Barbara Hibbard.

Jack became critically ill one day. After an emergency trip to the equine hospital, seven, three-pound calcified stones were removed from his colon. Hibbard said she was in a state of disbelief when the vet brought the triangular shaped growths out in a large steel bowl. It was uncertain whether Jack would pull through the surgery, but the brave little horse survived.

Just as he was relearning his steps in the competitive world of miniature horse shows, Jack stepped in a crack and injured his leg. Once again, the American Miniature Horse Association World Grand Champion's future was uncertain.

Hibbard said she told her little friend that she would fight as long as he would. While he can no longer participate in the jumping portion of the competitions, this horse can hoof it.

Jack may not step as high to the music as some of the other miniature horses, but Hibbard said Jack has been known to ham it up.

Liberty class is more than horse play. It is not as easy as just turning a horse loose in the ring while music plays, Hibbard said.

When Hibbard trains the horses at home, she said she may play ten songs before finding a tune that the horse responds to.

Hibbard compares liberty class to "Dancing with the Stars." Sometimes, the dancing will be good but if it's not in sync with the music, the performance is a mistep.

"If it doesn't work, it doesn't look pretty," she said.

Training a horse to dance is not the only challenge, catching the horse afterwards comprises ten to fifteen percent of the score.

No matter how graceful or riveting the dance, if the horse is not captured in one and a half minutes, the horse is disqualified.

"It's about building a relationship with that horse. He has full trust in you in that ring," Hibbard said.