Diana Beuchert rode in on a white Andalusian, its silky coat radiating a sparkle that matched her flowing, 18th-century-style wedding dress.
Suddenly, the tractor pull, the pig races and the aroma of funnel cake were no longer the big draws at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair last Saturday.
Beuchert, a horse trainer and owner of a Mount Airy-based equestrian theater that features the Spanish-born horses, seemed to have the limelight to herself.
"Wowwwwww!" exclaimed a group of teenage girls looking at the 6-foot train on Beuchert's satin-and-lace dress that covered the horse's backside. A trail of onlookers pointed cell-phone cameras as horse and rider ventured into a makeshift equestrian arena.
Beuchert then staged a dazzling solo, freestyle riding performance, delighting the fairgrounds crowd in the same way she does visitors to the theater at her Spring Fever Farm. She aims to make equestrian theater a staple in Carroll County with performances that are held once a month; the next is Saturday evening.
She also showcases the theater at annual fairs; she's scheduled to perform at the Frederick County Fair on Sept. 20.
Initially, her equestrian theater began as recital parties for those whom she taught riding lessons; riders would invite family and friends to watch. Eventually, the events became so popular that last year Beuchert added 250 bleacher seats to her arena, which has dressage pillars and stage lighting.
Beuchert directs and choreographs her shows and designs many of the costumes worn in them.
"I decided a few years ago that I have all these gorgeous horses from Spain," said Beuchert, "and I have music and dance in my background. I love to do musical freestyles, which is when you ride your horse to music. I'm just going to do my own art form."
Shows cost $25 for adults, $20 for children younger than 10. Kids receive a pirate's hat as a gift, in part because one of the acts features a scene based on the film Pirates of the Caribbean: Beuchert, wearing her wedding dress, rides a horse while being chased by a rider in pirate garb.
"It's a scary chase scene with the lights turned low," she said. "The kids really cheer us on."
Beuchert says she has yet to turn a profit. Though attendance has grown steadily, her largest crowd at the farm theater has been about 75 patrons. She has put much of her earnings from horse-training classes toward the theater.
She owns nine Andalusians, and says the cost for such animals runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. And it costs another $10,000 to fly each of them from Spain to the United States.
It costs her $1,500 to stage an equestrian show. Expenses include paying lighting technicians, performers and the local high-school kids who help her set up.
But Beuchert says the venture is well worth it. "At the end of every show we invite the audience to come and pet noses, ask questions," she said. "And what they don't see coming is we invite the little kids to sit on the horses and they love it. It's so fun; the whole place becomes a sea of people and horses. It's become the big after-party."
For Beuchert, 47, an animal communicator, horse trainer, former emu breeder and dance instructor, training horses and showcasing them in theater has been another means of turning a passion into a career.
She once made headlines while running an emu farm during the 1990s - when interest in the Australian birds as a food and oil source in this country was growing. But her passion has been horses, well before she got her first one at age 9.
As a young adult she began taking riding lessons, going to clinics and working with trainers. She also discovered her ability to communicate with animals, using telepathy. And she took classes to improve that craft as well.
Beuchert soon went on to compete in equestrian events. She amassed about 3,000 ribbons, but ultimately turned away from competing when she found it to be too political.
She now focuses primarily on noncompetitive aspects of classic dressage, a type of exhibition in which a horse takes a series of steps in response to the movements of its rider. The show is a staple in Spain, which has centuries-old riding schools.
"It is the highest art form you can do on a horse," said Beuchert, who began her equestrian theater in 2000 on her 14-acre farm, which is nestled in Carroll County's leafy woods and rolling hills.
Her show has steadily become a monthly attraction in Carroll County. "It's just this beautiful display of horses in partnership," said Charlotte Abell of nearby Winfield. "It's fascinating; the horses are magnificent, and Diana takes you through all the drill work."
Patrons arrive 90 minutes before the theater begins and assemble in a picnic area with blankets, watching the horses romp in an open field while Beuchert serves cheese and crackers. Last month, the Maryland Wineries Association offered a wine-tasting during the event, and will do so again this weekend.
"We've always heard that the two types of farms that people would like to live near are vineyards and horse farms," said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the association. "We want to see if the two would mesh, and we had a good reception."
Before each fairground performance, Beuchert shares information about the Andalusians and classical dressage.
"[The horses] are very agile and athletic and courageous," said Beuchert to patrons at the Montgomery County Fair. Her stallion Poderoso moved excitedly as she spoke, prompting Beuchert to exclaim, "Hold still."
"He's like a little kid when his mom is on the telephone," she said. Moments later, she took part in a performance where five horses sauntered and cantered to music from the Irish step-dancing show Riverdance.
The shows have given Beuchert an opportunity to share her affinity for Andalusians horses, named for the Andalucia region of Spain, and for equestrian-related events.
Instead of showcasing 3-year-old thoroughbreds that fly around a track, equestrian theater features horses that centuries ago were bred for wars and trained to perform moves used as evasion and striking tactics during battles.
"They're wonderful, generous, intelligent animals," said Beuchert. "They were [also] once bullfighting horses, which is why they're so athletic"
Beuchert's solo performance was set to David Lanz's piano melody, Christofor's Dream. Her horse Peyaso wowed the audience with such moves as the piaffe, a graceful yet highly coordinated trot. Then came the pirouette, a complete turn in which the horse used its hind legs as a pivot. And the flying change, in which the horse shifted his canter by jumping in midair.
When the light dust settled from Peyaso's hoofs and the music ended, the crowd cheered as the horse leaned forward and he and Beuchert bowed.
Between shows, Beuchert allowed youngsters to pet the horses. Ten-year-old Alexandra Donahoe of Silver Spring spent about 15 minutes rubbing the horses in their stalls.
"They're really nice, and if you get them to behave and do dressage stuff, they're really fun," said Alexandra, who has been riding for six years.
Many patrons echoed her sentiments, which speak volumes about people's fascination with show horses such as Andalusians.
"It's not easy to get an animal of that size to do what it does gracefully and make it look easy," said Linda Schultz, marketing director of the Lexington, Ky.-based United States Dressage Federation. "It takes years to accomplish."
The show was a delight for avid horse riders such as Beth Hilkemeyer of Silver Spring.
"As a rider, I think I probably watch the horse more," she said. "I can feel like what it would be to ride."
Then she paused and said, "Not that I could do those movements."