Oklahoma City family fun bridges culture and time.
Sometimes, living here feels like the perfect blend of country and city living.
Yesterday, my family and I visited the Youth National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show at the State Fairgrounds’ Jim Norick Arena. Admission is free for families and it’s an ideal chance to see horses in all their beauty. The event features competitors ages 5 to 18 from all over the country.
My days are detailed well in advance but every now and then, an event comes along that’s worth changing your week’s scheduled plans for and this one is it. The show’s different classes and events are offered without charge and open to the public now through this Saturday, July 28.
Kids, though, are sometimes hesitant to try new things and Sunday was hot. I was sure there would be dust and flies, typical of any horse show. My first grader, Isaac, who normally loves animals and dreams of being a veterinarian, was also unusually tentative. He was afraid for some unknown reason that a horse would bite him. That, of course, did not happen and visiting the horse show as the highlight of our weekend.
My children were born here in Oklahoma City. They haven’t seen horses except for a few short visits at local riding stables and do not know about agricultural living or what’s outside the suburbs. These four little boys aren’t familiar with equestrian culture, which is often part of the landscape for families in our state and in other, more rural places. I grew up in Wyoming, where horses are part of ranch life but also largely present in everyday living within “the cowboy state.” Oklahoma has its own traditions that further western culture, between OSU’s prevailing themes and excellent resources for families like the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The metropolitan aspects of living here, though, can bring the best of both worlds together.
What we observed at the Fairgrounds was unlike any other horse show I’ve seen and in such a positive way, I really hope families will go out and see it for themselves. Even if your kids don’t love horses yet, visiting is a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon.
Here are four reasons why the Youth National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show is an excellent family fun experience:
- There’s no charge: You won’t have to pay for admission or parking. Summer can get expensive but this is one time you can leave your cash at home or save it for vendor shopping inside. There are western-themed items for kids and concessions available for purchase but those become even more accessible when you don’t have to worry about how much you’re paying just to get in the door.
- Culture and confidence: My sons watched cautiously as a brother and sister team close to their own ages brought out Captain, a beautifully-groomed mottled gray horse, and deftly led him forward for them to pet and feed. The pair did not hesitate. Although they were just 11 and 8, each child clearly knew what they were doing; the brother grabbed a lead and the sister brought a carrot and proceeded to introduce us. Seeing kids with skills share what they love is essential for their peers, no matter where the expression of that confidence comes through. My sons see it in kids acting, singing, just sharing a talent. That confidence reinforces a lot of what we say as parents but can’t always demonstrate in a way that’s relevant to them. Even if equestrian culture isn’t where your child feels inclined to participate, knowing that kids just like them are good at something can be inspiring. Even this year’s “Arabian Horse Life” youth magazine features a teen from Oklahoma City with an incredible story. Furthering equestrian culture is a major focus of the event and that has its place too. I think it can be intimidating to kids to go into a setting that’s unfamiliar but learning about horses with the people who travel the nation to attend shows like this one is a great start because they see exactly what it’s all about, can ask questions and see how practice pays off.
- Hands-on fun: There are TAIL (Total Arabian Interaction & Learning) Tours throughout this week that give kids a guided tour all about horses and their care, including the different tools used with tack and grooming they can actually handle and the chance to pet a horse. You do have to reserve your spot but that’s simple to arrange with just a simple phone call or email and offered without charge. There are classes and other events available to the public as well, like watching competitions.
- The facility and the show’s organizational approach: The arena where competitions take place is air-conditioned and everything is under a roof. There is ample seating and I did not see a single fly. This horse show was definitely the absolute cleanest and best organized I’ve ever visited. You won’t feel like you have to leave because the heat is too much for your kids; instead, you could make a day of it. There’s a cafe open daily until 3 p.m. to supplement food vendors on-site with healthier options; restrooms are easily accessible and I had no problem with kids ages 11, 6, 3 and 4 months, which is definitely not every venue. Even the guide book with printed schedules is created with families in mind; it doubles as a coloring book and comes with colored pencils.
Here are three tips for your horse show visit:
- Decide what you want to see: Check the schedule directly for TAIL Tours and competitions. Allow more time than you think you would need. My previously hesitant six year old wanted to stay the entire afternoon once we arrived and saw the horses.
- Wear closed-toe shoes: If you haven’t been around horses recently or are just used to sending your kids to put on their own shoes, remember to skip the sandals. That can be easier said than done this time of year when your kids are so used to flip-flops but it really is safer and you will probably walk through some dirt.
- Be prepared to answer follow-up questions: Two of my children would now like to ride horses. Information is available at the show about where to do that here in Oklahoma. If the veterinary aspects of caring for livestock comes up, capitalize on that interest and find a local vet to chat with about what to study in school.
My child who was nervous to visit came away happy after volunteering to feed Captain the carrot. His fear was gone and daydreams of being a vet filled his mind and our conversation on the way home. He asked me this morning if we could go back later this week and has spent the day cutting out pictures of horses.
I do think back to the unusual place and time I experienced in Wyoming and there is a kind of nostalgia I feel about that. I think I really did forget how amazing horses can be. Maybe we’ll take a road trip to that area of the country someday but in the meantime, the Youth National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show made for a memorable afternoon. I keep seeing this meme on my social feeds, “Kids won’t remember their best day of television,” and I can say from experience that’s true. Opportunities abound to do something different.
The experience from here on out, though, isn’t mine. It’s my sons’ and that’s worth driving over to the Fairgrounds to see together, for any dreams the day might inspire.