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“Alex would have loved this. I feel she is here with us, enjoying every minute of this day.”
These were the words of Jane Cockrell-Hartner as she looked around at the huge crowds and dozens of horses at the Alex Hartner Memorial Horse Show at the Lake Waccamaw Boys & Girls Home Exhibition Center in Lake Waccamaw last weekend.
Jane’s daughter, Alex Hartman, died in an automobile accident last January when she was 18 years old. A renowned equestrian who rode in both English and Western classes, Alex was a freshman at St. Andrews Presbyterian College and rode on its equestrian team.
The St. Andrews Equestrian Team is one of the top collegiate riding teams and won intercollegiate national championships in 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007.
Last weekend, her family and friends and hundreds of supporters celebrated her life with a horse show that brought riders from Georgia to Maryland and Delaware. The event raised funds for two memorial scholarships: one for St. Andrews Presbyterian College, the other for an outstanding student at Topsail High School, Alex’s alma mater.
The Alex Hartman Memorial Show included classes in both English and Western riding, with “Games” taking place Saturday afternoon.
Thirty-one classes in the English discipline included everything from walk-trot classes (beginning riders) to amateur open hunter classes (experienced riders). Also included were jumpers and dressage. English riders competed on Saturday.
In the hunter and equitation classes, riders perform either on the flat or over fences. The rider wears tight britches and high boots, dark-colored hunt coats and high-collared shirts. The saddle is small and relatively flat with no horn.
In jumper classes, a rider must negotiate a series of jumps within a certain time limit without taking any rails down or having the horse refuse a jump. Ties are broken by a jump-off in which both horses compete for the fastest time in a clean round.
This is an exciting event to watch because as each horse pounds over the course, the rider tries to cut tight corners and sail over fences that may be as high as 4 feet. Different divisions have various height requirements.
Finally, in dressage (a French word for “training”) the rider and horse must perform a prescribed “test” at the walk, trot and canter to show control and athleticism. The horse and rider should appear to be one harmonious unit.
A horse show will attract many experienced riders and horses, but often equestrians will bring a new horse to a show to check it out.
Judy Vodmar of Southern Pines brought her new horse, Surprisingly Cheerful.
“He’s really green (inexperienced) and doesn’t know what this is all about,” she said. “He’s 7 years old and only knows racing around an oval track. We’ll see if he can race and jump fences.”
Surprisingly Cheerful did surprisingly well, with only a few refusals on the jump course.
Riders perform on a larger, ornate saddle with a horn. Clothing includes jeans, chaps, western shirts, cowboy hats and big silver belt buckles.
On Saturday afternoon, “games” took place, with riders competing in barrel racing, pole bending and other events. There were 27 different competitions in Games.
On Sunday, 34 Western classes were held, including halter classes, western equitation and pleasure.
Caitlyn Andrus, Alex’s cousin, competed in both English and Western classes.
“Alex loved every different kind of riding and I’m riding today to honor and remember her. She was such a joyful competitor,” Caitlyn said. “That’s why we’re all here. Cousins, aunts, uncles from all over, came here to honor and remember Alex.”
Alex Hartner’s entire riding team from St. Andrews came to the show and competed in many of the classes. Family members sold raffle tickets and manned registration tables and acted as helpers to the men and women who judged each class.
Other Activites at the Show
Besides all the horses and riders, the thrill of competition, this charity horse show had “Whistles the Magic Clown” and numerous concessions serving everything from ribs to pork barbeque to fried chicken and funnel cakes. An artist who specializes in animal painting had a booth, and a western attire store did a brisk business.
One small building on site contained more than 125 raffle items on display. On the porch, face-painting done by Alex’s relatives and friends added to the festive air.
Eleven-year-old Emily Arrigoni, who recently moved to Shallotte from Pinehurst, enjoyed the show.
“When I lived in Pinehurst,” she said, “I rode in shows all the time because my grandmother had horses. Right now I miss that. It’s really fun for me to be near horses again today.”
Two beautiful white carriages brought spectators, friends and guests from the parking lot to the competition and concession area. The carriages came from Whiteville, donated by the All Occasion Carriage Company, which supplies carriages for weddings and other gala events. The horses pulling the carriage were Belgian Warmbloods. Otto McKenzie, the owner of the business, was there with his helpers ferrying guests to and fro.
All in all, it was a satisfying weekend for the family and friends of Alex Hartner.
There were lots of memories and tears shed as everyone remembered Alex, the beautiful gifted young equestrian.
Her aunt, Teri Andrus, recalled that last Christmas, the family had chipped in so that Alex and her cousin Caitlyn could have a “Day at the Spa” in Wilmington a few days after Christmas.
“The two cousins had a time of it, getting their nails done, the whole works,” recalled Teri. “Afterwards, the girls went to Bill Parr Photography to have their pictures taken. Bill took over 300 photographs.
“When the accident happened, we called to tell him about it and he was terribly upset. The next day he came over to my sister’s house with a disc of all the photographs, plus a beautiful huge framed print of Alex leaning against the tree with her fancy salon manicure. We’ll always treasure those pictures because a few days later, Alex was gone.”
Gone from view, perhaps, but not truly gone. Alex Hartman, the beautiful equestrian with her joy and her love of life, lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew her and those of found her spirit at the Alex Hartner Memorial Horse Show.
On the porch of the tiny building that held the auction items, a brave homemade flag flew in the breeze. “Don’t Follow Your Dreams, Choose Them,” it proclaimed in a rainbow of color.