Farm Horizons, Oct. 2015

New Germany home to state fair award-winning mare

By Solomon Gustavo

Sue Sondergard and Always Sweet Talkin’, her 7-year-old mare, are in their New Germany barn. Sondergard combs Sweet Talkin’s, or, by her barn name, Juno’s mane.

“Today she is acting really nice,” Sondergard said, “She can act like a little kid.”

Sondergard pets and readjusts Juno, to which the horse pays little mind, hardly making any commotion. The two share an intimacy, an awareness. Whenever Juno slouches, just as her massive and majestic head droops, Sondergard pats her chest. When Sondergard walks toward Juno to back her up or readjust her feet, Juno walks backward, sensing her master’s intention without fuss.

Though Sondergard said Juno can “act really silly,” the chemistry is apparent. So evident, in fact, the cultivated relationship was recognized at the 2015 State Fair horse showing competitions. Sondergard displayed Always Sweet Talkin’ at the grounds in St. Paul and returned home with a halter grand championship.

A halter horse show is one in which the owner shows the horse “in hand,” which means the owner doesn’t ride the horse, but leads it. Sondergard said her competition involved leading the horse past the judge; first walking, then trotting, and then stopping so that the judge can see the mare stand still. Judges grade how well horses execute proper walking, standing, and trotting in determining the horse’s breeding quality.

“This win really surprised me,” Sondergard said, “I know the quality is there, but she is little.” Sondergard came across the 900-1,200 pound mare in Elko. Bred to be a pleasure horse, Juno had never shown when Sondergard acquired her. Sondergard felt Juno to be of good stock, and after the purchase, took the former trainer’s advice to start haltering the horse.

Sondergard is no stranger to horses. She owns a few more with her husband at their barn, and has been a Western Saddle Club Association member for more than 50 years. She is proficient in the English riding style, and considers herself a master of western pleasure riding.

Juno is a “very pretty mover,” and the two worked a great deal on pivoting and standing in preparation for the fair Sondergard said. The aim is to have horses “respect you and stand silent and alert,” Sondergard said. The three main points of distinction, according to Sondergard, are straightness of legs, body proportion, smooth motion when trotting, and a smooth transition into smoothly standing at attention. The competition also includes cleaning the horses ears, mane, and applying a show sheen in front of the judge.

What helped Juno pull away from the pack, in Sondergard’s estimation, is her aesthetic appeal. “A lot of the horses were big, muscular, big-boned horses,” Sondergard said, alluding to how the judges favored Juno’s relatively petite frame.

A day in the life of a champion horse is one of range and relaxation. Sondergard typically starts the day by cleaning Juno’s stall, while letting the horse out to graze and stretch her legs. Juno will then head back to the barn, returning to a meal of grain and hay. The two will carry out the same routine again at nightfall.

After Juno has had her night meal, the two are done till morning.

Sondergard keeps a light on in the stall to biologically trick the horse into thinking winter is still a ways away, thus keeping the coat short. A short coat gives the horse a “copper glow,” Sondergard said.

The championship team is not done competing. Sondergard said she intends to continue showing the horse.

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