Don’t blame arena for risks with horses

In a perfect world the Marion County Fair Association would have an arena for animal activities and a separate arena for automotive activities. We all know we don’t live in a perfect world.

In my position, I’m forced to stand on both sides of the fence. As fair board president, I’m charged with providing the best situation possible for all fair participants.

As a father of two 4-Hers, one in the horse project and one soon to be, a horse owner, and a rancher by profession, I know the problems experienced by having horses and children and the trouble created when trying to combine the two.

Speaking as a seven-year member of the MCFA, the past three as president, I can say the MCFA works diligently throughout the year to keep the arena free of debris. We also work to make the entire fairgrounds as attractive as possible.

The MCFA is made up entirely of volunteer members. No one is paid for their time cleaning up the arena.

The arena is worked up several times each year for different events and each time members of the MCFA walk the arena and remove as much debris as they find.

We know that every time the arena is worked and after every demolition derby there will be another round of junk to pick up.

We have two “work nights” every year specifically to clean up the grounds including the arena. The MCFA has, in the past, hauled in dirt and sand to try to improve the arena. A lot of time and money is spent on maintaining the arena each year.

The MCFA also has rodeos and other animal related activities involving hundreds of animals in the arena and have never, to my knowledge, had any other complaints.

I would add that no 4-H horse group is charged a fee for using the arena, which some groups do several times a year.

At the 2006 Marion County Fair, the superintendent of the
4-H horse show invited the two dozen or so participants and their parents to walk the arena before the show. Some small pieces of debris were removed.

Afterward, no one present felt the arena was unsafe.

About 25 horses and 20 children competed in 36 classes. No injuries were reported to either horses or people due to arena conditions.

Building a new arena is all but out of the question. The MCFA has no room to expand at its current location. Budget limitations would prevent building another suitable arena even if we had a place to build it.

The possibility of another pile of dirt has been discussed, but it isn’t as simple as “exchanging dirt.” Other options have been and are being explored at this time.

In talking to some former members of the MCFA, I learned this situation has come up off and on in the past. No one was able to tell me of an injury to either horse or human because of arena conditions.

In my seven years on the board I have no knowledge of anyone having proof that an injury to any animal or person was the result of the arena conditions.

I understand that Ms. Partridge (Letters, Oct. 11 issue) had a horse go lame sometime after riding in the arena. However, I was told by a third party that she admitted she couldn’t be sure that what caused the horse to go lame happened in the arena.

Speaking as a 4-H father, horse owner and rancher I say, “Don’t blame the arena!” To paraphrase Ms. Partridge, a form of Russian Roulette takes place any time a human being mounts a horse. Especially a child!

As a rancher I am caretaker for 19,000 acres of Flint Hills pasture land. I do my job primarily on a horse. On occasion my 11-year-old daughter or my 7-year old son go with me. I have several friends and people I work with that take their kids along also.

Anyone who has ever been in a pasture in the Flint Hills knows what the terrain is like. There is nothing in the arena that comes close to the “land mines” I encounter on any given day.

I know and accept the risk, as do my children, that exists in riding horses anywhere. As my grandfather once told me, “The only horse that can’t hurt you is a dead one but, even some of those you have to watch close.”

The point is, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, accidents can and will happen anytime, anyplace.

As a father, 4-H or not, I would hesitate to let my kids ride a horse in a “heightened state.” The possibility exists that a horse in a “heightened state” has no business in an arena with a kid on it in the first place. It would depend on the horse and the kid.

I know my horses. I trust the horses my kids ride. That doesn’t eliminate the possibility of an accident happening. I could write several pages of stories I have heard about “kid-proof” horses hurting and even killing people in accidents.

Under Kansas law there is no liability for an injury or death of a participant in domestic animal activities due to the inherent risks. There are several signs posted on the fairgrounds with these exact words.

This law is in place to protect people and organizations from lawsuits by people who probably shouldn’t have been on a horse in the first place.

I don’t want to deny any child with a love of horses the chance to learn more about horses or the chance to learn to ride. But anyone who puts a child on a horse, regardless of where that horse is, needs to know there is risk involved.

Contrary to what Ms. Partridge seems to imply, the risk doesn’t exist only in the MCFA arena. If you chose not to ride in the MCFA arena, I will respect your decision. Just don’t blame it on the arena.

Chuck McLinden

MCFA president

United Way drive helps county causes

United Way in Marion County is in the midst of our fall fund-raising campaign. Over the past four years United Way has raised more than $40,000 to support agencies in our county that serve children and adults.

Agencies receiving United Way funds include Marion County Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Communities in Schools of Marion County, Main Street Ministries, United Cerebral Palsy, American Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Health Ministries and the Joyful Noise Pre-School.

Each agency serves the needs of children and adults in Marion County.

The current United Way campaign goal is $60,000. As a United Way volunteer approaches you, please consider making a financial contribution to support our efforts. Nearly all dollars donated to United Way stay in Marion County and address community-based needs.

The campaign goal of $60,000 can only be realized through the support of our communities.

United Way also generates funding through payroll deduction. Employers in Marion County who would like to provide this option for employees can do so by contacting the agency’s executive director.

United Way volunteers are eager to come to your business and present our program to employee groups.

If you are not approached by a United Way volunteer and would like to contribute, please contact a United Way board member or the agency’s executive director Lori Bebermeyer at 620-947-2313.

Thanks in advance for your support.

-United Way Board of Directors: Jayson Hanshu, Gordon Mohn, Sara Hill, Jessie Nikkel, Lu Janzen, Vince Nikkel, Kelly Krch

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