altIt was a cold and snowy 14th of January but still the horse folk converged on Red Deer for the 29th annual Horse Breeders and Owners Conference and 5th annual Stable Owners Seminar, presented by the Horse Industry Association of Alberta (HIAA). The snow that had begun on Thursday evening continued through the night and into Friday morning, creating visibility issues and poor road conditions close to Red Deer, but still they came, by the hundreds. The saying goes, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." It was originally said of postal couriers 2,500 years ago but apparently applies to horse enthusiasts as well!  (View Photo Gallery)

What met the travellers at the end of their wintry journey was a conference centre loaded with all things horsey, excepting the horses themselves. Those who arrived early were treated to a complimentary afternoon of education for the stable industry, covering a wide range of topics from business plans to arena footing to conflict raltesolution to instructor ethics. Over 100 stable industry members attended the seminar and took advantage of the four very knowledgeable presenters, Rich Wilcke, Scott Holmes, Linda Jesse, and Peggy Brown.

Friday evening always offers up the very popular Open Barn Welcome in the exhibit hall. This year, the weather actually assisted with the event’s attendance, encouraging delegates to get on the road early and avoid tackling the sub-par road conditions in the dark. The hall was warm and friendly, with Pfizer Equine Division buying drinks and snacks for all who came out. The lucky prize winners from the December 1 early bird draw were awarded and an additional 14 people won the evening’s bucket draw prizes provided by generous conference sponsors.

Saturday morning started off on a high note with AEF sponsored speaker Patti Colbert of Texas taking everyone on a movie tour through the generations, illustrating how to attract people of different ages to our industry. Roy Rogers and Trigger, John Wayne, and hilarious Mr. Ed clips were all part of the Baby altBoomer portion, with Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron demonstrating the changing priorities of Generation X, and a cat herding commercial showing the irreverent side of Generation Y.

Three more educational sessions were offered in the time slot before lunch and delegates had the opportunity to choose from Scott Holmes’s footing session, Josh Nichol’s look at finding softness in our horses and Marijke van de Water’s approach to dealing with laminitis. All were well attended and Josh packed the house with those seeking the secrets to excellent horsemanship.

With temperatures hovering around -25 all day, most chose to stay in for lunch, making for a festive atmosphere in the exhibitor hall and restaurants. After an hour and a half of shopping, eating and socializing during the break, everyone was ready for the barrage of afternoon education. Six different 50 minute presentations were offered with delegates choosing from Christie Ward’s discussion on Cushing’s, Rich Wilcke’s getting down to business with horses and Peggy Brown’s session on Centered Driving in the first post-lunch time slot. A quick 10-minute room shift and then a choice among respiratory issues by Renaud Leguillette, a thought provoking presentation on euthanasia considerations by welfare expert Carolyn Stull and a repeat of altStable Seminar topic, conflict resolution offered by Linda Jesse.

A tradition at the Horse Breeders & Owners Conference is to entertain the delegates on Saturday evening, giving them a chance to relax and spend time with friends. Thanks to Horse Racing Alberta, the evening features live entertainment, a dessert buffet and a host wine bar for the enjoyment of attendees. This year the Doll Sisters, Jenna and Shelby, from Rocky Mountain House, delighted the crowd with their considerable instrumental and vocal talents. Peter Fraser, President of HIAA, developed an indoor version of team sorting, with teams made up of sponsors, speakers, HIAA, AEF, Horse Racing Alberta, first timers, 5 year participants, alt10-plus year veterans and those who’d travelled from the Peace region. The group of seven carefully selected bovines included five cows and two steers, and challenged the rider teams with elusive behaviour and secretive tactics. In the end, the group of five conference newbies took home top prize with the speaker group coming in a close second.

Fewer than usual Billy Bob’s (the conference centre’s Western nightclub) sightings were reported this year so an eager, bright-eyed group was ready to go at 8:40 on Sunday morning. Peggy Brown donned her bone suit altand helmet and hopped on the trampoline to demonstrate how the rider’s body works and how to “ride our bones” – one of the most popular and well attended sessions of the weekend. Veterinarians Roxy Bell and Patricia Dowling tackled the health-related topics of vaccination programs and drug use in horses, two excellent topics well presented.

Coffee break sponsors Western Horse Review, Olds Agricultural Centre and Horse Publications Group again offered coffee, tea and juices during the morning break, allowing delegates to fuel up before making yet another difficult choice from three sessions offered in the second morning time slot. Doug Householder brought his extensive knowledge of horses and his sense of humour to the topic of science at the seat of effective horse training; Albertans Art Gallais and Lane Moore presented the two sides of the conventional versus natural hoof care debate; and the always popular Dr. Mike Scott didn’t disappoint during his session on suspensory injuries.alt

One last chance to visit the conference sponsors in the exhibit hall during Sunday’s lunch and then the final session of the conference, the Alberta SPCA sponsored Fred Pearce Memorial Lecture. This year’s presenter, Dr. Sid Gustafson from Bozeman, Montana, talked about appreciating and understanding horses. The message that came through loud and clear from Dr. Gustafson: “friends, forage, and locomotion”, the cornerstones of equine life and horse health.

And so wrapped up the 29th annual Horse Breeders and Owners Conference. According to the delegate surveys, a good time was had by all and those who braved the weather felt well-rewarded. In the words of one delegate, “Fantastic! Every year I learn so much! Education in this industry is so vital for the wellbeing of our horses.” 

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