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Kentucky Round-up acquaints kids with the horse lifestyle

Emily Hamel, right, owner of The Farm at Windy Knoll, led warm-up exercises last week. Grace Crowe, foreground, rode Traveler, a 20-plus-year-old hackney mustang cross, and Elise Littleton, 12, of Lexington rode Ramsey, a 9-year-old Thoroughbred.
Emily Hamel, right, owner of The Farm at Windy Knoll, led warm-up exercises last week. Grace Crowe, foreground, rode Traveler, a 20-plus-year-old hackney mustang cross, and Elise Littleton, 12, of Lexington rode Ramsey, a 9-year-old Thoroughbred. Herald-Leader

Several days a week after school, Madeleine Richards, 13, can be found digging around in a feed bin, filling feed buckets for horses. Or out in a field, bringing in horses for other girls to ride.

She does it to help pay for her own riding lessons at The Farm at Windy Knoll in Lexington. She didn't grow up in a horsey family; instead, a friend brought her out one day, "and I fell in love," she said.

So for the past few months, this is where she spends her free time, working to fuel her horse habit.

"I work out here on Monday nights, and some other nights, and bring all the horses in, and sometimes clean tack," Richards said. "It is worth it, definitely worth it. ... I've learned how to really take care of horses."

And how to be responsible.

That's the kind of thing that the Kentucky Horse Council wants to highlight for parents at the Kentucky Round-up next month.

The idea of the event, said Ginny Grulke, council executive director, is to convince kids to "get up off the couch and into the barn."

It's also to bring new lifeblood into Kentucky's horse industry, which encompasses far more than the Thoroughbreds that get most of the attention here. The Horse Council also has been working with the University of Kentucky to survey the state's horse population. That data is expected to be released this spring.

For many kids and for their parents, even in Kentucky, it can take a lot of doing to convince them that horses are a safe and affordable way to be active and learn important life lessons.

That's why the Kentucky Horse Council came up with a unique all-breeds "horse fair" at the Kentucky Horse Park.

"One of our missions is to really support the horse industry in Kentucky, and keep it growing and healthy. And the only way to really do that is to make sure you have plenty of young people coming into it," Grulke said. "With the urbanization of the country and the state, less and less kids have the ability to be out on the farm and be familiar with horses. ... The goal of Kentucky Round-up is get kids without horses to come out, just be around them, learn a little bit about them and just have some fun."

The Kentucky Round-up will offer pony rides, opportunities to groom and pet horses, and demonstrations of everything from how police horses are trained to ignore loud noises to styles of riding, including gaited dressage to music.

Grulke said there also will be "parent classes" for those unfamiliar with horses.

"Unless you were brought up with horses, you might be nervous about them, too. The parent series talks a lot about safety and also about some of the character- building aspects of having horses — things like patience, and sportsmanship, and tolerance and staying off the couch," she said.

They also talk about ways that take little or no money.

"You can donate your time to groom a rescue horse, for example. That's a way to be involved with horses," Grulke said.

The goal is to educate the public about the value of horses for everyday people.

In the Bluegrass, Grulke said, people might get the impression that being involved with horses means owning a racehorse.

But there are myriad ways to get into the barn: everything from trail riding to reining and roping and carriage driving.

"We don't really care how they get involved," Grulke said, "we just want them to give it a try."

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