- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Trainer Brad Fincher instructs his students from the sidelines as their horses trot around the ring. "Use your voice," he calls. "He's moving well underneath you. Let him relax.

"A lot of them get real nervous out there," he says. Mr. Fincher is talking about the riders, not the horses, competing in an equitation class at Frying Pan Park in Herndon.

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The Fairfax County Park Authority property, with its huge indoor arena and two outdoor riding rings, hosts a horse show nearly every weekend. The 98-acre park also contains Kidwell Farm, representative of an early 1900s family farm and home to a barnyard full of animals to visit and learn about.

Early on many weekend mornings, Mr. Fincher loads a herd of horses, piles five or six sleepy teen-agers into car-pool caravans and drives the hour or so to Frying Pan Park from one of his farms in Maryland so the riders can compete. His students ride for ribbons in events such as Pleasure Park Hack, in which competitors may be asked to walk, trot, canter and back their mounts, or Schooling Hunter, in which horses face jumps up to 3 feet high.

"You learn five to 10 times more at a horse show than you learn in a lesson," he says, "and there's no other place for shows in Maryland like this."

Kirsten Harbom, 13, is one of Mr. Fincher's students and regularly travels with him to compete in shows. The eighth-grader has been riding since age 7.

Kirsten rides two or three times a week near her home in Clarksville in Howard County, Md., and says that when she has a bad day, riding helps her feel better.

"When you ride, you forget about everything else. If your horse is being good, it makes you feel good," she says.

Kirsten and Mr. Fincher share ownership of Molly, one of the mounts Kirsten rides in competition. Molly is a Farnly, a crossbreed of Welsh pony and Arabian horse. Kirsten says she has outgrown Molly, and the pony is for sale the asking price is $25,000.

Although riding and showing may not be on everyone's list of skills or price ranges, being a spectator can be. No admission fee is charged to attend Frying Pan Park horse shows. Bleacher seating, which abuts the rings, is plentiful. The arena atmosphere is informal and intimate; visitors are free to wander in and out of the competition area and around the park grounds.

Frying Pan's assistant park specialist, Chris Monson, says a variety of equestrian groups hold weekend events, which typically last six or seven hours, at Frying Pan Park.

Competitors in American Quarter Horse Association gatherings showcase Western riding in events including calf roping and barrel racing. The East Coast Cutting Horse Association shows feature events in which quick-witted horses must work to cut a single cow from a small group and prevent the animal from returning to its bovine friends.

The Difficult Run Pony Club hosts a three-day event pitting ponies and young riders against a 50-acre cross-country course complete with a water jump. Members of the Shenandoah Paint Horse Association compare their horses before judges who rate the animals on beauty and conformation.

"For our big quarter horse shows, we get participants from all over the Eastern seaboard and West Virginia," Mr. Monson says. "We've even had participants from as far away as Michigan and Canada."

Audiences are mostly riders' families, "but we'd all like to see more spectators," Mr. Monson says.

"Any horse show you go to here, all the people who are riding are always very friendly, so it is not any problem to get up close to the horses," he says. "The riders like to have people watch them. When we have shows and give ribbons, it is always great to have people in the stands clapping for them."

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