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Finksburg trainer taking Chincoteague pony, once a challenge, to Horse World Expo: ‘He trusts me so much’

Summer Barrick first met John Wayne, a Chincoteague pony, at an auction, and he was hard to control when he was being shown. She later bought him for $500 and has since developed a trustful bond with him.
Summer Barrick first met John Wayne, a Chincoteague pony, at an auction, and he was hard to control when he was being shown. She later bought him for $500 and has since developed a trustful bond with him.(Lois Szymanski/Courtesy photo)

Summer Barrick of Finksburg has worked with horses for much of her life. This week, she will be taking a Chincoteague pony that has been a challenge to train to this year’s Horse World Expo in Pennsylvania.

Barrick, 25, will be showcasing her talents and techniques along with John Wayne —her horse, not the movie star — at the Horse World Expo, which will be held at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from Feb. 27 to March 1.

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Throughout the four days, the nation’s leading equestrian clinicians and entertainers will be at the expo, which is designed for horse enthusiasts. There will be hundreds of vendors selling a variety of horse products, and there will be multibreed and multidiscipline demonstrations, competitions, parade of breeds, seminars, shopping, and more.

Barrick said she is very excited and nervous at the same time about participating in this event because this will be the first time she will be riding in an expo.

“I trust that John Wayne and I have a strong enough bond to try something at such a large avenue," she said. "He only has a few rides on him, but I just know he will take everything like a champ; he is just that kind of horse.”

What inspired her to participate in this expo, Barrick said in an email interview, is to be able to showcase the Chincoteague pony breed. John Wayne will be one of the demo breed horses representing Chincoteague ponies at the expo.

“Chincoteague ponies aren’t like other ponies or horses; they really are something special, and I think John Wayne is a perfect example of that,” she said.

Barrick’s interest and passion for horses began when she received her first pony when she was 7 years old — a 3-year-old male Appaloosa that she still has to this day.

She said that she had to train many of the horses she has had throughout her life with the help of trainers and coaches.

“I think that’s what makes the rider, though. … It’s great having a made horse you can just get on and ride and the horse has all the answers, but it’s a totally different experience when you and the horse learn together and create your own language,” Barrick said. “I like to call it like a love affair … a made horse knows the basic ABCs that every rider and horse knows, but there is something truly amazing when the horse and rider knows each other’s body language, a secret language two can share.”

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Starlight, a Chincoteague pony, was the first horse Barrick was able to train, in part with the help of local nonprofit The Feather Fund.

When she was about to be 10 years old, Barrick wrote an essay to The Feather Fund, explaining why she wanted a Chincoteague pony. The board then contacted her, and they awarded her Starlight.

The Feather Fund, which helps kids purchase Chincoteague ponies, was started by Lois Szymanski and Ed Suplee after the death of his wife, Carollynn.

According to Szymanski, Carollynn received a sign form God before her death that she needed to help children with the purchase of ponies. She was able to help many children with their dreams of owning a pony before her death in October 2003.

Szymanski, who also contributes to the Carroll County Times, said that since 2004, The Feather Fund has placed dozens of ponies with children.

Ed Suplee said in an email interview that all of the recipients of ponies in the past always come back and show their appreciation to The Feather Fund.

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Suplee appreciates the help of Barrick, who, to him, “epitomizes what The Feather Fund is all about.”

“She is competent and caring in the way she manages her life, and she has grown into a great resource for all the other (and especially new) Feather Fund awardees," he said. "She is viewed as a real leader and inspiration to the FF kids, and stays in contact with them throughout the year, always ready to answer any questions or concerns. We couldn’t do what we do each year without her support.”

Barrick said Starlight helped her grow and become that person she is today. She also began to love dressage with the help of Starlight.

“I’ve always thought of her as my guiding light, my star in the sky to lead me where I need to go. It always seems she knows where I need to go before I even think about that direction,” Barrick said.

Last year, she said, Starlight was injured in a pasture accident while training in Wellington, Florida, but has since made a full recovery with her rehab. In fact, Starlight is now expecting and is due in late April.

Barrick will be participating with John Wayne at the Pennsylvania expo. To prepare for events like this one, Barrick said it is very important to build trust between the horse and the rider, and try to understand and answer all of the questions the horse might have.

“If you and your horse are in sync, that’s all that matters, and if there is a hiccup along the way then you know where you need to work on things for the next event or the next outing,” she said.

Barrick learned how to train horses by taking multiple lessons with local trainers when she first got Starlight.

“The biggest takeaway I’ve gotten from my training with many instructors is that it’s always the rider doing it wrong, never the horse. Listen to the horse, he/she will tell you what he/she is needing and what you are lacking,” Barrick said. “What it takes to train horses … patience and being able to listen to the horse, put your ego aside and always put the horse first.”

John Wayne has been a challenge to her, she said. Barrick first met John Wayne at an auction, and he was very hard to control when he was being shown. That day, he was sold for $800, but the buyer returned him to the auction because he said he was too crazy and didn’t want him.

The second time Barrick saw John Wayne, she did not miss the opportunity. She bought him for $500.

Barrick brought him home and spent three weeks sitting in a stall with him just earning his trust. She was able to do that throughout that time.

“He trusts me so much; I feel like I could walk him into a burning building and he would be just be like, ‘OK Mom, I don’t like this, but I trust you,’ ” Barrick said. “Many people thought I was either going to get hurt by him or even get killed because he was so scary and dangerous. I think he is the perfect example of when you build a trust with a horse they hand over their heart without second thought."

Barrick’s mother, Robin Reese, is supportive of her and the work that she does with the horses.

Reese explained that her grandmother supported her when she bought her first horse when she was just a child, and now she wants to do the same for her daughter.

“I know how much it impacted my life having a horse," Reese said. “Having a daughter that works with troubled horse has its ups and downs. I do worry about her getting hurt, and we have had to go to the emergency room. But she learned so much. She is patient with the horses. Works on their timing, not hers.”

Barrick currently owns a barn with four horses — an Oldenburg (warmblood), an Appaloosa, and the Chincoteagues, Starlight and John Wayne — and manages another barn in Finksburg.

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For more information about the Horse World Expo, visit horseworldexpo.com. To learn more about The Feather Fund, visit www.featherfund.net.

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