Wandering from the True Faith of the Internet


A Reflection Upon Equestrian Expositions & Trade Shows - Equine Affaire (Massachusetts) - 2011

As I begin to outline the article you have begun to read I will confess a twinge of guilt. More than a “twinge,” if the truth be told (which it all too seldom is these days); I feel heretical. The heresy which I am about to espouse is the proposition – nay, the belief – that there are valuable sources of information beyond the Internet.

My divergence from the one, true faith of the Internet is brought to mind by two incontrovertible facts:

•  I write for a publication that is valued by thousands of sister and brother adherents to the same faith and this is a publication available only via the World Wide Web;
•  We still have in recent memory the sad fact of Steven Paul Jobs’ death, a gentleman in whose company I twice in this lifetime revelled and who was one of the major players in a company whose devices provide access to the Internet for countless folks.

How dare I – a devotee of the Internet since at least 1984 and a person who writes for a digital publication – propose that there is data to be gleaned elsewhere?

I am brought to this heretical stance by my loving wife’s taking me along to the Massachusetts iteration of the annual “Equine Affaire.” [Held also every year in Columbus, OH, http://www.equineaffaire.com ]


In addition to the glorious clinics presented (Ruth deigned to sit near me during Tina Konyot’s and Todd Flettrich’s demonstrations as they put willing students through their paces) and the nightly “Pfizer Fantasia: A Musical Celebration of the Horse” (which costs little more than a first-run film at Manhattan prices and [far better than a celluloid experience!] let us see Jennifer Baumert & Don Principe rock out their freestyle resplendent in sequined accoutrements) there are the hundreds of vendors and informational stalls to visit.

While I trust you, dear reader, will nod your head in agreement when I propose that one’s computer cannot replace attending a clinic (praiseworthy online services such as horseSHOW.com http://horseshow.com & Dressage Training Online http://dressagetrainingonline.com notwithstanding), I fear that when it comes to shopping for equestrian equipment and supplies a revolution can be fomented even amongst my most loyal readers.

It is with an eye toward at least proposing (if not proving to your satisfaction) that there is much to be gained from the hands-on, kick-the-tires experience available only during a visit to one’s local tack store or at expos such as Equine Affaire that I now turn. For no reason other than “they caught my attention” I present for our mutual consideration four small to mid-size firms that showed their wares this week in Massachusetts.

I will present the four in alphabetical order using the proprietors’ last names but placing the ladies first. (You see! We boy children DO remember some of the lessons our Moms and Grandmas tried to teach us.) In each case I invite the question of, “Would I make a buying decision based upon two-dimensional data obtained from my computer’s screen?”


Bearer of Bibliographies
Janet Blevins of Knight Equestrian Books

At the risk of thinking myself prescient, I know what you are (probably) thinking: “Wrong you are, Father Mack! I can pick out the best books from online bookstores with the assistance of the reviews posted by my fellow horsey bibliophiles. Why, I can even read sample chapters on my iPad/Nook/Kindle!” “But,” I counter, “can you tap your computer on its shoulder and ask, ‘Excuse me, but wasn’t there a recent book about human/horse interaction written by a neurosurgeon?’” Walk up to the nice lady in the photograph, pose your question, and there is a very good chance that you will soon be clutching your very own copy of Allan J. Hamilton’s “Zen Mind, Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses.”

Need further evidence? Even better than an online bookstore’s “Customers who bought this book also bought . . .” capability is the human brain’s capacity (Ms. Blevins’, in this case) capacity for recall. “I remember,” she tells you, “that parents who gave title A to their son/daughter came back and raved about how much their child adored the book.” In my not-always-humble opinion, time spent in the company of a savvy reader is always time well spent. Just try to pry an estimation out of your computer.




Fabric Phenomenon
Elizabeth Creamer of Ambleside Designs

I will have to mind my ego lest I become too cocky, but this second exemplar of what I called above “hands-on, kick-the-tires experience” just gets easier. Ms. Elizabeth Creamer designs and executes some of the loveliest velvet and tapestry saddlepads it has been my delight to see and to touch. (She makes elegant handbags as well, but Ruth’s Westphalian mare, Joy, is holding onto her cash until they make purses that hold a bale of hay and a bucket of oats.)

Not only are each of Ms. Creamer’s designs classy, each of them is hand made. This means to me two things:

• Here we have a lady who pays attention to detail;

• No two saddlepads from Ambleside Designs will be the same. (Which obviates those sticky situations at the ribbon awards when two horses show up on the red carpet wearing the same saddlepad.)

The closing argument for why one would prefer to purchase a saddlepad in person is not that we may run our delicate digits over the fabric ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the touch. Rather, it is seeing in the craftsperson’s eyes and hearing in her voice the obvious pride she takes in her creations. In the same manner that Janet Blevins does not want to send us home with a less-than-helpful title, Elizabeth Creamer (and craftspeople of her class) cringe at the thought of their handiwork only meeting a buyer’s expectations. Dedicated artisans seek to exceed their customers’ hopes. Shake the seller’s hand. Buy with confidence.






Cheavalier of Chocolate Confections
Phyllis LeBlanc of Dark Horse Chocolates

“Pride goeth before the fall,” Grandpa always warned me. I hear Grandpa whispering in my ear as I approach this third of my four illustrations.

When was the last time you licked your computer’s screen? I believe my case is made. To sink your adoring teeth into one of Phyllis’ creations is to know that you are in the presence of a lady who is both an artist and who finds satisfaction in her work.

Since I have no money involved in any of these companies (a disclaimer I should have made at the outset . . . nor were any remuneration received . . . I simply love folks such as these) I owe you an explanation for the effusiveness of my praise: In the case of Dark Horse Chocolates and its proprietrix, Ms. LeBlanc, it is the attention paid to detail just as much as the luxurious taste of the chocolates that makes me want to laud this venture with adulation.

• When one approaches the booth the samples of chocolate are laid out on a silver tray. (I did not flip the tray over . . .I doubt there was a hallmark . . . but it is a handsome serving dish.)

• The boxes of chocolate goodies available for purchase are adorned with gold ribbons.

• I have attended no event at which Dark Horse Chocolates were for sale where this company did not donate items for charitable raffles.

Add to that sample of flourishes the fact that Ms. LeBlanc is always elegantly turned out and even my curmudgeonly Grandfather would agree that pride is justified. An in-the-flesh observer is suitably transfixed.






An Infectious & Affable Personality
Jerry Johnson of Attitude Jack

After an apology to Mister Johnson for his being placed last in my set of examples derived from this Equestrian Affaire (were I a more egalitarian sort of fellow, Jerry, you would have risen only to second-from-last in alphabetical order), I hasten to add that I was not drawn to this stall of merchandise based upon its appearance or its quality (though both are admirable). I was attracted to the site by a zorse.

That is correct. A zorse. The offspring of a zebra and a horse who were left without parental supervision. As Ruth and I strolled what seem to me in afterthought the miles of trade stalls, there she was, Zelda the zorse in pictorial form. (Jerry is, as his web site puts it, “. . . a pretty good photographer.”)

Stopped in our tracks by the poster-size print of Zelda the eyes wandered to the first of “Attitude Jack’s” tee shirts which bore a picture of Zelda’s muted stripes running across her backside and below this image text that read, “Do these stripes make my butt look big?”

If my selection of the adjective “affable” were not already deserved by this gentleman’s sense of humor, it would take no more than a few sentences of conversation to melt even the most crusty potential customer. Yes, the tee shirts for sale are first cut and the witty slogans thereon are for the most part hilarious. (I hope you will excuse me, dear reader, for not citing a handful of these. Most deal with the mule theme from which Attitude Jack takes its name. You get the picture.) But it is Jerry Johnson and the web of stories he weaves concerning his mule that beats warmblood sport horses in dressage competition and the further adventures of Zelda the zorse that keep you hanging around until you buy an item that catchs your fancy.

Mister Jerry Johnson is the final illustration of how a living, breathing entrepreneur provides us as potential customers with both information (so that we buy items worth our while) as well as incentive to consider the purchase of such items.

A Codicil: Local Applications of This Trade Show Model
At the risk of overstaying this visit upon your computer’s screen, permit me to apply Ruth’s and my encounters at the 2011 Equestrian Affaire to your neighborhood: In the same way that mom & pop bookstores in most of our communities were put out of business by the megastores (and these in turn are closing with the growth of online book buying), what have become of our local tack shops? Unless one lives in a horse-dense area, chances are that the smaller tack stores are no more.

Yes, I write for an Internet-based publication.

Yes, I liked and admired Steve Jobs, one of the guys who put the fruits of the Internet on all of our desktops.

But must we prepare ourselves for the tack shopping equivalent of licking our computers’ screens?

I stand accused of heresy.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions with Father Mack via e-mail at frmac@columbia.edu.

Photos:  Father Mack in what he calls “Sherpa mode,” helping to cart home purchases and some of the wealth of informational literature on offer at these and kindred expositions;
Ruth Shaw McCormick [contributing photographer of all of these fine photos!] stands with one of the Pfizer Fantasia participants from the ‘Behind the Mask’ Friesian precision riding troupe.