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Western States Horse Expo has been a fixture at Cal Expo for the last 20 years—two decades of bringing the horse industry together for a June weekend of education, entertainment and shopping. This year, the West Coast’s largest equestrian expo will move east about 15 miles to a new home, the beautiful Murieta Equestrian Center, and founder Miki Nelsen has more “newness” in store for 2019.

Miki, you’ve been an innovator since you began the Horse Expo, but this year you’ve really retooled.

I am excited. Very excited, actually. Moving to Rancho Murieta is a big change, but I feel very much at home at the facility. I think everyone will because it’s very horsey. Just the feeling of being around there—it has a festival vibe. It’s outside, beautiful, clean, landscaped with trees. It’s a world class horse facility that is beautifully built and well maintained.

I’m also very excited about Equus Masters—a brand new format.

How is it different?

There are four “Masters”, who will each select and train a halter-broke Mustang. The three judges, Pat Parelli, Chris Cox and Eitan Halachmy, will point out what they are seeing—or not seeing—along the way, in real time.

Another difference is the motivation—it isn’t money! The motivation is doing the right thing on the horse, and also to educate people to do the right thing. We want our audience to get some good education out of this.

The Mustangs are from the R3C Wild Horse Program, and the person who runs the program will also be “miked up” to give history and insight into the horses.

What’s the goal of the training?

That’s just it—there’s no end goal. Each trainer will have to determine what that goal is after they get acquainted with the horse. The prize will be the same for all four trainers—that there is going to be a lot of people watching them and seeing them in action and seeing what their priorities are. These horses are going to dish up challenges—different things and no one knows what they will be, including the trainer. It will be up to the trainer how they handle it. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be real. The judges will be giving their commentary while this is unfolding.

It’s not even a competition in a way. It may not even be a critique—it’s more of a “pointing out.” A conversation. We’ve got these four in-the-trenches trainers and those three judges with eagle eyes, and they are going to be pointing out to the audience what they are seeing.

And it doesn’t matter where they are on Sunday—where they are is where they are.

How did Equus Masters come about?

There are other round pen challenges. I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen in them. You go climb on a horse and go “tada”—it’s just not honest.

I called Pat and Chris last summer and said, I’d like to do something, but I don’t like what I’ve seen out there. Pat said, “yeah, I’m tired of everyone pitting us against each other. It’s time for us to give back. Don’t pit us against each other—we want to work together.”

I thought , “What job could I give these guys that they could do together?” That’s how it came about.

We wanted to do something way different. And I wanted people to learn from it.

People that will be watching Equus Masters, they won’t be sitting there waiting for the rodeo. Chris is going to be out on the ground. The other judges are going to be around, too, and they are all going to be “miked up”—either asking questions or making comments. It will be total immersion. It’s real life, real time. I don’t think there will be one wandering eye in the audience, ever. It’s a conversation, and you won’t want to miss a single word.

There’s going to be a lot going on. These horses are going to be unpredictable—all horses are unpredictable. The trainers all have their own thing, and they’re out there doing their thing in the trenches every day. We’re going to watch and learn what they are doing. And you know what, you and I and everyone else are going to miss a lot—but Pat, Chris and Eitan are going to be pointing those things out. What a great learning environment.

What will the audience see on the final day?

Are we going to see someone flying around on a totally tuned out horse, doing jumps or flying lead changes or cracking a whip on its back? Or, are we going to see a horse on the ground that is confident and calm and happy and solid and connected—ready to go onto the next honest level?

What are the rules?

There are no rules. The rules are you have to do it within the time we give you. And whatever it is you are doing—we don’t care what it is—but you can’t be cruel. There are no rules because there are no rules. We’re encouraging them to do what they know is best with a particular animal at a particular time. How can you have a rule on that?

More online: http://bit.ly/905_Expo

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