MIDDLETOWN—The show rings at Fancher Davidge Park are one of Middletown’s best-kept secrets.
“It’s quiet and there’s good horses here,” said Audrey Chamberlin, 15, as she watched her horse Mason eating the park grass. “He has lots of room to graze here, which and I like and he likes.”
It was her first time showing at the Rotary Club Horse Show in Fancher Davidge Park on Sept. 6, and she said she it was a nice change of pace.
The park has two show rings and a judging booth, funded and maintained by the Middletown Rotary Club. Surrounding the facilities is a forest with nature trails and tall trees, a pavilion, and a lake to the south.
“This is a very pretty park,” said Amanda Gerkens, the chair of the event this year.
Despite the nice setting and long history, the show has been waxing and waning in popularity over the past 72 years.
At its peak, it was one of the only shows in town, said Mark Fellenzer, a board member of the Middletown Rotary Club who grew up near the park and whose father was also a member of he club.
“Back in the day, this was like a four day show … This was one of the major shows on the national circuit,” he said.
“[Now] there’s not as many horse farms around as there were,” he said. “[And] there’s a lot of competing shows.”
While this year had a low turnout—22 participants in total—it’s wasn’t the worst year. Gerkens remembers one year when only one horse showed up.
“That was not great,” she said.
Since that time, the numbers have steadily increased, thanks in large part to the founder of Equine Rescue Resource, Colleen Segarra.
Being well connected with the equine community, she has brought a lot of new faces to the show and has helped to boost the numbers in the past two years she has done it, Gerkens said.
But this year, even she could not contend with the power of the New York State Fair which also took place over Labor Day weekend.
“[The] state fair doesn’t put out their dates early in the year so I didn’t know the horse shows were conflicting,” Segarra said.
In addition to the horse show, there was a fishing competition for kids, pony rides, a raffle, and some vendors, and “Whoopsy Daisy” the clown did face painting.
All proceeds from the event went towards charity: the lotto proceeds went to the Middletown Rotary Club, the food proceeds went to the 4-H club, and the registration fee money to the Equine Rescue Resource.
There were 45 classes in the horse show this year, which included both juniors and adults, jumping, driving, walking, trotting, short stirrups, equitation, pleasure, and more.
One of the categories, no doubt inspired by Segarra’s work with rescued equines, was the Rescue and Retired (R&R) class for riders with rescued equines or retired racehorses.
“It was the biggest division. I think we had eight horses,” Segarra said. “It was really nice to see them all lined up looking gorgeous and well.”
Gail Lehde was there with her rescued mule, Miss Ellie Mae Brown. Miss Ellie had been abused by her former owners, and was most likely destined for a slaughterhouse when she was rescued. At first she was terrified of humans and “cowered in her stall,” Lehde said.
“You could not be on the right side [of her] because that was the side she had been abused [on],” Lehde said. “They twisted her ear [to control her] so she was very fearful.”
Through years of work and trust building, Lehde was not only able to train Miss Ellie to carry a saddle–Sunday was her first time showing in one–but this reporter was able to scratch her between the ears.
“The fact that someone who she doesn’t know her can come and touch her head like that…” said her trainer, Nicole Rinker.
“…amazing,” finished Lehde.
The Middletown Rotary Club Horse Show has a special award for riders with equines like Miss Ellie: the Highest Point Award for Rescued Horses and Retired Racehorses. There is also one for the highest scoring 4-H child and the highest scoring Pony Club child.
“Those are the three things we promote because those are the three categories that get overlooked,” said Segarra. “We’re all about the kids and rescue horses here.”
Horse Show Continues
The show is a three part series with the next two shows coming up on Oct. 4 and 24. Segarra explained that the points are totaled up between the three shows, which encourages kids to participate in all three.
She keeps the entrance fees low to make the shows affordable, and offers a bundled deal for riders who want to compete in more than one class.
Middletown Rotary Club President Thomas Grazier said he hopes it will be bigger next year.
“This year we have about eight horse trailers,” he said. “Hopefully next year we can get up to about 20 horse trailers.”
Segarra also hopes to expand and make it a two-day event with more classes than this year.
“We’re thinking next year we may split the show and we’ll do one day of just English so we can bring back all these special classes, and maybe we’ll do a separate show of just Western,” she said.
To contact this reporter, email [email protected].