The first year I went (which was the first year of the event) I was a young 4-Her selling raffle tickets. Since then I've gone as a horse lover that rode other people's horses but dreamed of her own. I've gone as a new endurance rider and an experienced endurance rider. And now I've been as a vet student.
Where as before I would spend hours and hours looking through the vendors and have a schedule of seminars I wanted to attend, as well as a long list of things I was looking to buy, this year I realized that something has changed for me.
For the vendors I had 2 items I needed and managed to find one of them (a screen that would fit into my horse trailer drop down window). In contrast to previous years, I practically ran through 4 buildings of vendors and didn't stop to chat or look very often.
I found myself unwilling to take the time look at vendors that didn't relate to a specific goal I had. I skipped the supplement booths - most of the supplements that have been proven to work are testable in AERC and I prefer to feed just want I need and not a "comprehensive". Feed vendors? I've explored most of my feed options and what's on the market. And tack? I've researched most of the tack and saddle options and know what works for me and Farley. The one tack item I was interested in (the perfect crupper) did not exist in any of the booths - in fact there was only one crupper to be found in the entire expo - a zilco one sold by the Australian Connection (which I already own and am looking to replace).
Which brings me to my first observation - there is many many less tack vendors at the expo now than a couple of years ago. There are a lot more "specialized" product vendors and clinician product lines. It's interesting to note the trends of the new products - The Horse Expo being a general show probably represents some of the emerging trends that are being widely recognized in the horse industry - and it looks like the idea that horses should be allowed to graze and eat over most of the day is one of those concepts. There were a TON of options for slow hay feeders, including one that mimicked what I tried to create with a hockey net a couple years ago that didn't work because it was very "beta". It looks like if I ever bring my horse home there are a lot of options for free/slow feeding while still controlling the total amount of hay fed.
The expo used to be the place I would buy my tack and management supplies that I couldn't find local and didn't want to order, but now I think it's more valuable to visit the vendors to explore new product "concepts" and compare between the ideas/manufactures of products that will probably never be carried by a feed or tack store.
In summary, based in my disinterest in most of the vendors, It appears that I've moved out of the "need more stuff stage". Either that or I've become jaded and cynical about everything as well as being too broke to even form wish lists?
What about the seminars? Looking through the schedule I realized that the seminars fell into 3 categories:
1. A demonstration about a sport or topic that I was unfamiliar with but have always been interested in - like combined driving. These seminars would give me a chance to see a new sport in action at a basic level. However, demonstrations that covered sports or topics that were familiar already probably wouldn't be a good use of my time since I would be unlikely to see or hear anything substantially new.
I think the strength of the big Horse Expo is to explore new disciplines and topics, not necessarily to learn the details of a familiar sport.
2. A riding demonstration/seminar that (forgive me) caters to the older, middle-aged women dealing with fear issues. Although we all have to face fear and uncertainty in the saddle at some point on a continuing basis, nowadays as long as I have a sensible horse like Farley (which is the only kind of horse I plan on riding....) or my ride and tie mount, Stashi, I'm good to go in this area. I have a good handle on what my fear triggers are, why they are there, and strategies to deal with them. If I need more training in this area, a combination of a psychologist's office and individual riding instruction will be better money and time spent at this stage of my riding ability and career.
3. Topic seminars on important subjects such as metabolic syndrome or nutrition that probably present concepts that are beyond the basics......but I've seen and listened to the same speakers multiple times at other events. I walked by Claire Thune, a nutritionist, giving a seminar and heard the familiar concepts of lecture I had attended at a previous event that contained VERY VALUABLE information - but information that I've already thoroughly explored. Seeing these seminars and speakers on the schedule was very reassuring - I'm definitely listening to the right people and learning the right concepts :).
So, looking at the seminars and my general sense that none were really worth my time, I'm not sure whether I've become a more knowledgeable equestrian now, or I'm arrogant enough that I feel like I know everything I need to know, at least at the level that was presented at this relatively non-specialized expo.
Or it could be a reflection of the value I place on my time nowadays - I'm just not willing to spend hours on the chance I might pick up a tidbit here and there. My time is so precious and as time passes it seems more so.
What I should have done was treat the expo like any other convention and focus on one or two topics. Then attend everything on those topics and try to become an expert in that subject...and then pick the 2 or 3 things to implement in the next 14 days. At a big event like this, unless you do this strategy, its easy to not feel like you got anything out of an expo you paid money to attend. I think I'm done being able to go a convention by myself and just wander around and feel satisfied at this stage of my life. Either go with friends and be social, or go with a purpose.
My last observation was the amount of injured people I saw at the convention. There's a joke among vets that you can always tell the horse vets at a convention because they are the ones that are bent over and hobbling around. The injury rate among horse vets is really high.
It's always been a bit confusing to me since I've never had a serious horse injury. I'm pretty good at reading body language and am very safety conscious (see, being a scaredy cat and a very cautious beginner comes in handy!). It's not that I've just worked my with my own, trained horses. I've volunteered for numerous non profits that did not have the most well mannered horses, and I've done lots of different things on horse back - and while others around me were injured my biggest "badge" is a broken toe.
Luck plays into it, but I think there's a bit of skill, and intuition that plays into it as well. I've talked to horse vets. One vet told me that it's inevitable that you get hurt and listed the many injuries, many serious and debilitating, that they have gotten over the years. However I talked to my vet in Turlock, who has really good horse sense, works with a lot of horses, and he has yet to have a serious injury and there's only been one incidence of a serious injury to another vet in his practice. So I'm not sure exactly what factors play into remaining injury free or not.
Maybe it's like computers. There are certain people that stuff just "happens" to their computers. (I'm looking at you redgirl:) It's not that they are careless, but inevitably, their computer has to be replaced because something unfortunate happened to it, usually well before the computer was due to be replaced. And then there are people (like me...) who aren't really that careful, who let their bird climb all over the computer, drink open cups of coffee and take lunch while entering data and yet nothing ever happens.