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'A best friend who won't tell anyone your secrets'

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | September 8, 2022 1:25 AM

RITZVILLE — Briger Peterson has a short and pithy description of what a horse is.

“A best friend who won’t tell anyone your secrets,” the 14-year-old said, ready to demonstrate her bareback riding skills during the second day of the Wheat Land Communities’ Fair in Ritzville on Friday.

Phil Peterson, who manages the Iron Legacy Ranch south of Ritzville along with Heidi Tracy, leaned against the wire around the equestrian pen. Many of the horses in Friday’s competition came through Iron Legacy, Tracy explained, as she too leaned on the wire to watch the kids fit and show their animals.

“They’re just so good for the kids,” Tracy said. “They teach them how to think outside themselves, teaching them to be selfless.”

“What’s that old saying? The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,” Peterson added, noting he was borrowing a quote from Winston Churchill.

With its sparse population — around 20,000, fewer than live in Moses Lake — Adams County’s equestrian enthusiasts are a close and tight-knit group. The students competing in the youth events are all mixed 4-H, Future Farmers of America and even a private club or two, simply because there aren’t enough kids raising horses in the county’s dryland farm region to make for proper classes, according to Erike Hennings.

Hennings said has been volunteering to help organize the fair’s equestrian shows since the Wheat Land Communities’ Fair was started in 1980, and her family contributed the silver bowl that is the Elizabeth Hennings Trophy, given to the fair top horse shower since the 1990s. Hennings, who runs a ranch with her husband about 20 miles south of Ritzville, said the award was named after her grandmother, who lived well into her 90s and always enjoyed going out even in her later years in a horse and buggy.

“They just roped me in at the beginning because I was about the only horse person around when they started this fair,” she said.

“I’ve been horse crazy since I was about this high,” Hennings said, holding her hand just above her knee. “But I grew up in the city and didn’t get my first horse until I was 14. It was boarded. But my dad always said it was the best thing he ever did because he knew where I was at.”

While Hennings said she likes knowing programs like 4-H and FFA are available, she admits it's increasingly difficult, even for farm kids, to find the time.

“With all the sports programs and everything, it’s gotten tougher for a lot of the kids to just do their horse stuff,” she said.

Kalea Herald clearly found the time this year. Herald, 14, who won this year’s Elizabeth Hennings Trophy, said her emotional connection to her horse — a five-year-old cow horse trained to help work with cattle on a ranch — is similar to the connection many people have with their dogs.

“You can actually connect with them, but you are also learning from them and they're learning from you as well,” she said.

Herald will have her name engraved on the Elizabeth Hennings Trophy, which she will keep until next year’s fair, Hennings said. Anyone who wins the trophy three times gets to keep the silver bowl, Hennings added.

“This is our third trophy,” she said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Equestrian Judge Kathryn Holden speaks with Hanna Giesen after the fitting and showing competition during the Wheat Land Communities’ Fair in Ritzville on Friday. “Horses are my life,” said Holden, who also runs barrel races. “I can’t think of a better connection you could have with a 1,200-pound animal.”

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Equestrian judge Kathryn Holden watches as 4-H and FFA competitors walk their horses during fitting and showing on Friday at the Wheat Land Communities’ Fair in Ritzville on Friday.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Kalae Herald, 14, walks her horse as she prepares for competition.

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CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Kalae Herald, winner of the Elizabeth Hennings Trophy at this year’s Wheat Land Communities’ Fair in Ritzville.

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