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Weber does a lot of custom work, with clients, many of them farmers, submitting beloved personal photographs for her to paint.

It’s legendary
Midwest Horse Fair, set for April 12-14, celebrates 40 years
Midwest Horse Fair, set for April 12-14, celebrates 40 years

Since 1979, the Midwest Horse Fair has been providing an experience for equine enthusiasts and the public through exposition, education and entertainment — and this year will be no exception. For the event’s “ruby” celebration, organizers have packed many memorable events into this year’s roster, including The Mustang Challenge, their feature competition, and an art gallery to pay homage to 40 years.

More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the Midwest Horse Fair April 12-14 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. This year’s theme is “40 Years of Legends.” The event has an $11 million economic impact on the greater Madison area, with attendees from near and far drawn to the event that hosts 40 expert clinicians, 500 exhibitors, 700 horses and two sell-out evening shows.

“We are excited to celebrate the growth the event has experienced from its inception four decades ago,” said Megan Hanuszczak, executive director. “From a two-day fair with 58 exhibitors and four guest speakers, Midwest Horse Fair has exploded into a three-day, action-packed celebration of horses.”

Gates open each day at 7 a.m., with opening-day activities on April 12 including numerous sessions in the morning, followed by the Mustang Mounted Color Guard, presented by Operation Wild Horse; a draft horse demonstration by the Midwest Draft Horse Enthusiasts; and an American Paint demonstration by the Midwest Paint Horse Club, all featured in the Blain’s Farm and Fleet Coliseum starting at 11:30 a.m.

At 12:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, the Midwest Horse Fair Grand March will take place, showcasing 40 legendary breeds representing multiple disciplines, celebrity horses and world-renowned acts. With music, fun and horses at the center of this event, the Grand March also provides a snapshot of the essence of the Midwest Horse Fair as a whole.

The Friday night Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo is also sure to draw a crowd, featuring the seven standard rodeo events: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. The rodeo is sponsored by Nutrena.

Sessions continue on Saturday, April 13, leading up to the Midwest Horse Fair’s feature competition: the Mustang Challenge. A total of 56 equine trainers were matched with virtually untouched wild mustangs, spending 90 days with the horses in preparation for the in-hand competition. Ten finalists will perform Saturday night, competing for more than $20,000 in cash prizes.

“Each trainer has been working hard to train and establish a unique bond with their horse,” said Hanuszczak. “We’re so excited to see the progress our contestants and their respective horses have made in just a few months.”

In addition to the Mustang Challenge, other competitions throughout the weekend include World Championship Blacksmiths, Dressage Freestyle and Horse Judging.

To steer future breeding decisions, mare owners can view stallions of all different types on Stallion Avenue in Pavilion 1. Attendees will also enjoy breed and discipline demonstrations, activities in the Kids Korral and pony and carriage rides, with a portion of the carriage ride proceeds benefiting Operation Wild Horse.

Four living legends, who have been immortalized as Breyer Models, will be on display in the Celebrity Horse Area of Pavilion 2. See replicas of Standardbred, Foiled Again, the richest harness racing horse in history; Empres, the Arabian horse with top wins in five countries; Dusty, the Rocky Mountain Horse who has been featured in a series of children’s adventure books; and Chocolate Chip Kisses, the Pinto pony who earned an incredible 22 World Championship titles in just two years.

An art gallery will also be located on the second floor of the Exhibition Hall, showcasing 20 original Midwest Horse Fair theme paintings, thoughtfully created since 2000 by local artist Larry Schultz.

For more information about the Midwest Horse Fair, including a more detailed schedule, visit, and follow the fair on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo by Benjamin Wideman  

This photo was taken in mid-March in rural Waupaca County. The foggy haze that blanketed much of Wisconsin as winter broke and warmer air filtered in, as well as flooded fields, produced this image.

Clausen earns national writing award

The Country Today Editor Heidi Clausen has earned third place in the editorials category of the 2018 North American Agricultural Journalists contest.

Clausen’s award-winning editorials were entitled “New dairy task force must prove skeptics wrong,” “It’s time to bring rural America up to speed” and “Wisconsin leadership program in need of revival.”

Jerry Perkins, freelance contributor to “Successful Farming and “Grain Journal” and retired farm editor for the Des Moines Register, who judged the entries, commented: “This writer knows her subject matter and her audience. Clausen’s readers are well-served by her insights.”

In this category, writers must build arguments on fact and logic to address a certain issue. An editorial should state a position and convince the reader of the need for action. Three editorials are submitted as a single entry.

Clausen, of Clayton, has worked at The Country Today for more than 25 years and covers agriculture and rural news throughout northwestern Wisconsin. She became editor of the publication in January 2018.

Awards will be presented April 7-9 during the NAAJ 66th annual meeting at The Cosmo Club in Washington, D.C.

First place in editorials went to Urban Lehner of DTN/The Progressive Farmer, and Brian McLeod of The Western Producer took second place. Honorable mention recognition was given to Laura Rance of the Winnipeg Free Press/Farmtario and Greg Horstmeier of DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

“Farmers and agribusinesses are well-served by these writers who tell agriculturists what they need to know, not what they want to hear,” Perkins said. “Such is the duty and obligation of a free press, a necessary component for the survival of our democracy.”

NAAJ is a professional, international group of agricultural editors and writers with a membership spanning the U.S. and Canada. Formerly the Newspaper Farm Editors of America, and then the National Association of Agricultural Journalists, it was organized in 1952 to “promote the highest ideals of journalism and agricultural coverage.”

DFW to focus on trust, dairy quality messaging

MADISON — These are busy times, hard times, but also exciting times at the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Chief Executive Officer Chad Vincent reported during the organization’s board meeting March 20. Vincent was fresh off a presentation at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s Business Conference the week before, where he teamed up with Dairy Management Inc. to talk about dairy promotion and was ready to delve into the 2020 budget.

“One of the main themes of today’s budget is prioritization,” he told the 25-member board of dairy farmers from across the state. “The spectrum of things we’re tasked with doing is huge.”

He added that he still feels DFW is doing “too much” with its programming and hinted at increasing quality perceptions of Wisconsin cheese and dairy in 2020 instead of focusing too much on raising awareness of Wisconsin’s products.

Staff at DFW have been reorganized, with funding for each of their departments also reconfigured with ambitions to develop a clearer picture of how dollars are spent.

Vincent said the organization has made a couple of great hires recently, too, although some names he could not yet share with the board.

“We’re really excited about fiscal 2020,” he said.

Four priority areas remain for DFW as they look forward to 2020. Staff will continue to raise awareness around Wisconsin cheese, although more focus will be put on driving affinity and quality perception to enhance Wisconsin cheese imagery. To do this, the organization will have a heavy emphasis on using influencers to spread the message of Wisconsin cheese.

There continues to be a focus on distribution, sales and trials of Wisconsin cheese, with Vincent and DFW aiming to increase growth in all three of these areas both domestically and abroad.

A bigger emphasis will be put on building trust — trust with farmers, with dairy farming as a whole and in the dairy products themselves. Vincent wants to increase the number of farmers aware of the checkoff and find cost-effective ways to reach more farmers across the state. He has set a goal to reach half of the dairy farmers in Wisconsin either in person or by voice.

“Farmers still want to see visibility of where their dollars are within the state,” he said. “That message was loud and clear.”

Board chairman Jeff Strassburg agreed, stating that he has had numerous farmer conversations and has received feedback after the publication of an editorial explaining the role of DFW and the checkoff in a recent edition of The Country Today.

“These farmer-to-farmer conversations from the heart do have an impact,” Strassburg said.

Vincent has also set goals to better the culture, operations and efficiency of those working at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, which has already been reflected through the reorganization of staff.

The 2020 budget was approved by the board after a breakdown presented by Chief Financial Officer Jessica Rogers-Heintz. It will now go to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for review and final approval in June.

In the news

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin has had quite a bit of buzz around it lately, with marketing director Katie Hepler speaking about its involvement in the recent boys’ and girls’ WIAA tournaments. DFW was the WIAA’s first-ever social media sponsor, with the logo splashed across the coliseum during the event and on TV screens across the state as people watched the tournaments in March. The promotion of chocolate milk during the tournaments also led the Kohl Center to sell out on Saturday night ahead of the Division 1 boys’ basketball game.

A few DFW staff members traveled to Texas for the SXSW conference and festival recently with their Cheeselandia display. Chief Marketing Officer Suzanne Fanning said the goal was to get cheese in the mouths of as many people as possible and generate PR and social media buzz around Wisconsin cheese — and she believes they were very successful.

“When spending farmer dollars, it’s important to measure and know we’re doing what we need to do,” she said.

Staff engaged with more than 3,000 visitors to Cheeselandia over three days. They asked questions about how the people viewed the product, if they’d recommend to a friend, if they’d purchase it in the future, etc., with 96 percent of those who attended expressing they had a positive experience.

Cheeselandia had more than 100 million impressions online and counting, Fanning said. She added that it was neat to hear the positive comments from consumers as their thoughts are powerful and can elevate the brand.

“We’re being nationally recognized and it’s cool to see the excitement we have,” Strassburg said.

Attendees were also funneled to the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, where they could purchase the Wisconsin cheese they tasted at the event. There was also a seven-day sampling at the Whole Foods store, which sees 1 million people pass through its doors every week.

LuAnn Lodl, manager of interactive communications, shared information about the new website that launched at It will be easier to access for board members, cheese companies, dairy promotion committees and the public.

A new farmer e-newsletter focusing on the “Power of Promotion” also launched in March, and staff are excited to ramp this up. They’ve set a goal of reaching 20,000 emails by June 2020.

Farmers interested in receiving the monthly e-newsletter can visit to get signed up.

Contributed photo  

Brenda Schwark of Cornell is one of 50 trainers from across North America taking part in the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge. She is training Tuff, an 11-year-old mustang from Utah, for the event.