The Chris Cox & Friends evening on Friday night of Horse Expo Pomona reminded me of the backyard horse shows most of us staged for friends and family at one point or another in our youth. No fancy equipment or cheesy, over-the-top antics, just pride in our horses and our horsemanship. Of course, the Pomona performers' professional skills made for slightly more sophisticated content than our backyard extravaganzas, but the joyful feel
I was clearly in the minority not having seen the Texas-based three-time Road To The Horse colt-starting champion before. Fans staked out seats long before show time and the venue was packed with cheerful devotees on a chilly night. Chris was, indeed, the show's main attraction but he was far from its only star.
First to ride into the arena were the gloriously turned out horses and beautifully costumed riders giving a preview of the Fiesta Of The Spanish Horse that returns to Los Angeles in May. The sneak peak featured Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos and Andalusians strutting their striking gaits, dance moves and overall gorgeousness.
Chris' next "friend" was Norco's own Ray Ariss and Hail Yeah!, "Horsetown USA's" official mascot and the Mustang Ray made famous in the early days of the Mustang Makeover. Dressed in cavalry garb, Ray and Hail Yeah! entered the arena at the haute ecole dressage gait known as the Spanish Walk. They ended galloping around the ring while Ray shot balloons off the tops of jump standards, which the handsome breed ambassador took absolutely no notice of.
"Dog whisperer" and native Australian Ray Cox (no relation to Chris) drove his three dogs all the way from his current home in Oklahoma to be part of the evening. Although Chris works with prey animals and Ray with predator animals, the men forged a friendship over the commonalities in their approaches. Ray's techniques arose from his desire to work cattle without help from other ranch hands. He said his dogs had not performed for an audience before. They indeed seemed excited by the crowd and their new surroundings, but responded quickly to Ray's calm voice commands and knocked the crowd out when it came time to work eight cows that were let into the arena.
California father-daughter team of Richard and Sarah Winters came next with an exhilarating reining pattern pas de deux. Sarah shared that Pomona expos were very much a part of her equestrian upbringing. She appeared in her first clinic here, as part of her father's presentation, and this year successfully made her first solo appearance as a clinician. "You've come a long way, baby," noted her proud pop.
As the finale, Chris returned astride Captain. The Quarter Horse is normally a working cow horse, but Chris came in using a dressage saddle and wearing a dressagy show coat and top hat, chaps and cowboy boots. "Is it Steffen Peters or Chris Cox?" asked the announcer as Chris began a "test" that included canter half-passes, lead changing diagonals and other dignified dressage moves. He paused briefly to replace the top hat with a cowboy hat, then laid down a beautiful reining pattern with speedy circles, slides and spins, before setting the horse to work on the herd of cattle. Amidst the barrage of claims about what true horsemanship can accomplish, the pair's performance said it all.
The evening was a ton of fun and an inspiring nudge to put to use all that could be learned in the Expo's three days. In closing, Chris invited the participants back into the arena, then asked Expo founder Miki Nelson to come in. He thanked her for reviving the Pomona event, which her company took on for the first time last year. The Chris Cox & Friends evening was free to Expo attendees and its performers participated for free in support of the Expo.
The loose, down-to-earth aspect of this performance is, I'm told, part of Chris' appeal. It looks like the The Horsemen's Re-Union, of which he is a co-producer, will have a similar feel. A combination of real-time colt starting demonstrations throughout the week, plus a horse sale and cowboy-style entertainment, the Re-Union returns to California for its sophomore season
April 15-20 at the Paso Robles Event Center.