AITKIN -- At 5 a.m. on an August Saturday, two Nisswa sisters willingly rolled out of bed and got to the horse barn about 45 minutes later for what has become a regular weekend summer activity.
If it's summer in central Minnesota, it must be horse show time.
Awaiting the Nisswa sisters, Lauren and Heather Meyers, were a 13-year-old chestnut thoroughbred gelding with a racing past and a gentle 19-year-old former mounted police horse turned girl's show horse.
The foursome began their early Saturday show day routine on a day that promised to be hot before lunch. They didn't expect to be back home before 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m.
They weren't alone.
Riders, from preschool age to adult, come from across the lakes area to compete at weekend horse show events. Competitors shampoo horses, braid hair, practice ridership skills and clean tack in preparation for weekend hours in and near area show rings. They load saddles, riding helmets, equipment, and hay into pickups and horse trailers. For many, it is a family effort.
At a recent Double M Saddle Club show at the Aitkin County Fairgrounds, riders came from Aitkin, Little Falls, Crosslake, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Eagle Bend, Brainerd and Minneapolis.
Andrea Lilgaroth, 10, Minneapolis, rode a dark 13-year-old Welsh pony/Morgan cross named Ashley. Wearing a riding helmet and an English outfit for the morning classes, Lilgaroth said the shows are part of her weekend routine during the summer.
"It makes you a better rider and it can be challenging," Lilgaroth said. "So you always know what your goal is -- to be better next time."
Aboard her tall gelding Oliver Star, Heather Meyers waited nearby in the shade between competitive classes. There were cheers from riders waiting to enter the ring for the previous classes winners. As riders passed in the ring there was the sound of creaking leather, muffled hoof beats in the soft earth and the occasional clink of a metal horseshoe striking a rock. Outside the ring, small children were the safe keepers of colorful ribbons nearly as long as they were tall.
"I like these shows," Meyers said. "Everyone is really friendly."
At a recent show, Meyers forgot a girth and others at the horse show generously lent the saddle equipment.
"It's like we are all friends," the 16-year-old said. "It's a good experience."
Her sister, Lauren, was still beaming from a first-place win. Her first ever, she said. And one where she was in competition with her older sister.
"This is good for them," said their father, Phil Meyers. "They learn responsibility, how to take care of things."
Inside the show ring, horses and riders pulled into a line in the center and faced the judge. Show judge, Ruby Kennedy, Clear Lake, used a clip to attach her placing order from first through sixth to a thin rope that was pulled up to the second story of the announcer's stand.
"It's rewarding to get something," said Claire Yde, 14, Brainerd, as she waited to enter her next event. The horse shows are a regular summer weekend activity for Yde and her 7-year-old bay Arab gelding named Starstruck. The two have been together for four years. But another attraction was from the age-old connection between horse and rider.
Yde smiled and said: "It's fun to spend time with my horse."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.