XENIA — It takes a bit of a walk to find the horse show ring in the far corner of the Greene County Fairgrounds.
There, however, young equestrians and their horses are at home. As they enter the arena, boots and hooves crunch through the wet sand to show their families, friends, and the judges how hard they’ve been working.
Each horse is beautifully groomed and dressed to the nines. Manes are brushed, ribbons are tied, and tack is in perfect order.
However, there’s one horse that stands out from – and is shorter than – the rest.
Sadie Shepherd and her horse, Panda, make quite the dynamic duo. Unlike the other entrants, Panda is a mini horse. Panda stands at barely half the height of her competitors, though that didn’t stop her and Shepherd from becoming Showmanship Grand Champions at the Greene County Fair.
Shepherd herself is an equine veteran. She has been showing at fairs for five years, four of them with Panda. At the Ohio State Fair in 2019, she won the Grand Champion slot in small equine showmanship, and was the Reserve Champion in small equine pleasure driving.
Shepherd’s skills have shown just how remarkable she and Panda are in the ring. However, maybe just as remarkable is Panda’s story, and how she came to be Shepherd’s partner for the past four years.
Debbie Lott, Shepherd’s grandmother, rescued Panda from a farm in Cleveland. The farm was decrepit and the animals kept there were all but neglected.
“She was with a zonkey [a cross between a zebra and a donkey], just sitting in a pile of poop,” Lott said of when she found her. “I handed the lady $300, and loaded her in the back of my van. I didn’t even have a trailer.”
State officials intervened to shut down the farm the year after the family rescued Panda.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic means that none of the competitors will be able to go to state this year, Greene County Fair competition gives kids an opportunity to show off the work that they’ve done all year.
English Pleasure champion Luke Fisher has been showing for 10 years, since he was 3 years old. Fisher was the champion of the Equitation class at the Ohio State fair last year. His horse, Storm, was given to him by his cousin.
“They didn’t think he’d be a fancy show horse,” Fisher said.
With Fisher bringing home the blue ribbon, the two of them may have proved that notion wrong.
The Fun Horse Show at the Greene County Fair is Saturday, Aug. 8.
Reach London at (937) 502-4532
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