Mane attraction: Students lead the way at nearly 100-year-old horse show

posted March 19, 2018 7:27 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Brooke Bechen, Regional Editor |

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    While visiting Tennessee this winter, members of the club had the opportunity to tour Alltech in Lexington, Ky.
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    Saddle and Sirloin members posed for a photo by this cow statue at Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana this winter.
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    Little International Horse Show Logo

MADISON — Shannon Palmer moved to Wisconsin from southern California when she was 13. She had horses on the small hobby farm and showed them, along with a few miniature Jersey cattle. She also participated on the 4-H drill team.

Savannah Schill grew up in the Waukesha suburbs; it took her moving to the “middle of nowhere” to find her love for horses. She joined the equestrian team as a freshman and also worked on a horse farm in high school.

Amanda Ballbach spent some time at her dad’s home in Mississippi when she was younger, where he had horses and goats for her to play with. Growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs with her mother, she also spent time at her grandparents’ farm in the summers, running with cattle and chickens.

What do these three ladies have in common, aside from their love of horses?

They are all animal science majors at UW-Madison and active members of the campus’s Saddle and Sirloin organization. They have also been busy planning the 99th annual Little International Horse Show set for Saturday, April 28, at the Alliant Energy Center’s New Holland Pavilion.

“The entire show is put on by members, which is a huge undertaking,” Schill said, adding that the show is sanctioned by the Wisconsin Horse Council.

The show is also a huge opportunity for club members to network with the community and a good way to encourage members to step up and get involved on campus, she said.

The Little International Horse Show is just one of four livestock shows the Saddle and Sirloin club organizes each year. The other three events include the Badger Kick-Off Classic, Wisconsin’s premier prospect steer and heifer show in early December; the Badger Bonanza Lamb Show, which quickly follows the horse show in early May; and Bucky’s Spectacular Swine Show in mid-May. The biggest event is the Badger Kick-Off Classic as it is one of the largest prospect beef and cattle shows in the U.S., the women agreed.

The Little International Horse Show is just as important, however, as the event will be celebrating its centennial next year. As co-chairwoman of this year’s event, Ballbach will take over as chairwoman next year for the 100th annual show.

“I’m most excited about the energy of what the show will be next year,” she said. “It will have a lot of attention because of the centennial, which is good for the school and the club.”

Serving as chairwoman at this year’s event is Schill, who has been busy contacting judges, getting sponsors and organizing this year’s top prizes.

She was excited to share that Dana Panella will be the judge of this year’s event. Panella has more than 20 years of judging experience and in 2011, was honored with Wisconsin Horse Council Judge of the Year.

“She was excited to be asked and has been awesome through the process,” Schill said.

The show is open to horse enthusiasts of all ages and experience — from novice to beginner to expert — and all breeds. Classes include halter, showmanship, pleasure, walk trot, equitation, horsemanship and by request this year, reining. The pleasure classes are always popular, as are the halter and showmanship, Palmer said. The walk trot is also a popular class because beginners and novices can enter and have less cantering.

Participants have the option to cross-enter in competitions, and many of them do.

“It’s fun to have an open show,” Schill said. “It’s relaxed and welcoming.”

For the most part, show participants travel from surrounding areas to compete. Some come from the Milwaukee area, and some are from northern Illinois. There are usually quite a few competitors from the Oregon area as it is a highly populated horse area, Schill added.

Last year, 70 horses were entered in the show. The previous year, there were 65. Schill has set a goal for 100 horses for this year and next year. However, because day of entries are accepted, it’s hard to determine how many horses will be there before the show.

“It’s definitely a very fast-moving environment on the day of the show,” Palmer said. “And as chair and co-chair, you need to be on top of things.”

Palmer, who serves as the chapter president, also served as chairwoman for last year’s event. It was a big task to take on, but she learned a lot and the experience was invaluable, she said. Serving in the club has also provided management and leadership experience, as well as added to her resume and skillset.

She will graduate from UW-Madison this May and said choosing animal science as her major was “the best decision she made here.”

At the beginning of their freshman year, all animal science majors are partnered with a member of the Saddle and Sirloin club for a 101 course. Each freshman spends a week or two with a mentor from the club, learning how to do chores and how to handle and show animals.

All three women remembered their 101 course fondly.

“A lot of our members enjoy it, too,” Palmer said. “Freshmen learn about the organization that way and join.”

“It’s a super great opportunity for freshmen because it’s also an extra-credit opportunity and they get hands-on experience with working with animals,” Ballbach said.

The Saddle and Sirloin club usually hovers between 40 and 45 members at UW-Madison. It is open to animal science majors and short course students at the university.

Most students in Saddle and Sirloin are also in other agriculture-related clubs on campus. There is a lot of crossover for members, Palmer said.

“It’s one of the best things about the club — the involvement,” Schill said. “We all support each other and advertise each other’s events.”

Every winter, the club takes a “reward trip,” voted on by club members. They have traveled to national events, gone on farm tours and taken in hockey games; this year, members went south — touring a farm in Indiana, visiting a horse track in Lexington, Ky., and spending time in a variety of places in Nashville, Tenn.

The club also participates in service work, including the hosting of a haunted house in the fall, where proceeds are donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, and CALS Day for Kids, where Dane County fourth-graders are invited to campus to learn more about animals from UW students.

Shortly before the annual Little International Horse Show, on Thursday, April 26, the Saddle and Sirloin club has arranged for nationally known animal science professor Temple Grandin to speak to students. It is something the club is really excited about, Palmer said.

It is obvious these three animal science majors stay busy at UW-Madison. But the camaraderie is what keeps them going — the professors who know them by name and the unique community of students who have come together because of their love for agriculture.

If you go

What: 99th annual Little International Horse Show.

When: Saturday, April 28, 9 a.m.

Where: Alliant Energy Center, New Holland Pavilion, 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way, Madison.

Information: Savannah Schill, 262-349-6832 or Visit https://​​little-i.

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