Unlikely horse trained for riding competition at Vermilion fair
DANVILLE — He's no Seabiscuit, but Harvey the haflinger horse has his own fan club at the Vermilion County Fair.
They crowded around the stout, short-legged stallion Wednesday afternoon after 14-year-old Bailey Theesfeld of Rankin rode Harvey through the pole bending competition. It's a timed event in which riders and their horses weave around six poles in a straight line.
His fans, who are mostly under 12 years of age, are drawn to the small haflinger, a breed intended for work, like pulling and carrying loads, rather than riding and racing.
But his obvious physical drawbacks and breeding didn't stop Theesfeld from training him for the riding competitions at this year's Vermilion County Fair. Neither did the fact that in his five years, Harvey had never been ridden.
Tom Theesfeld, Bailey's dad, said his wife brought the horse home from an auction. He wasn't excited.
Harvey has a lot of heart, he said, and has always been a good horse, but this summer, he decided it was time for Harvey to do something a little more useful than eating, taking up space and fathering other horses.
His daughter Bailey accepted the challenge.
"We don't have video games at our house. We have horses and pigs and cows," Tom Theesfeld said.
It took Bailey about a month to get the haflinger into riding form, which included getting thrown a couple times and shedding some tears and sweat along the way.
"She got him ready for the fair all by herself," Theesfeld said of his daughter.
For fun, Bailey rides him bareback, which she said Harvey likes. She can even stand on his back while riding.
"He likes Gatorade and pretzels," she said, adding that he prefers the honey, twisted version of the snacks.
He had some cherry Gatorade during Wednesday's events.
Bailey said she was very pleased with Harvey's performance, even though he didn't win.
"He does all the things a fancy horse does. He's quite a horse," said Tom Theesfeld, who's happy to see the rejuvenation of horse arena events at the fair the last few years.
Theesfeld said all the county fairs are struggling, so more events like this that get people to come out are welcome.
"It's good for the fair," he said.
The horse arena gets rolling tonight at 7 p.m. with Jackpot Barrel Racing and continues Friday (bull riding at 7 p.m.) and Saturday (team roping at 10 a.m.).