A little girl with pigtails and purple shorts waited patiently for her turn to ride a pony.
“You get to ride the white one,” her mother said. Hadley Maddox, 3, grinned, eager to ride Olaf, the Shetland pony.
As Rachel Surridge, 17, led the pony around the ring, the little girl’s smile grew. At the end of the ride, she didn’t want to leave, wandering back to pet Olaf.
“Olaf is my size,” she said, noticing how Olaf’s back was just slightly taller than the top of her head. “It was fun!”
Hadley was just one of the kids who lined up to ride a pony with Easy-Ride-EM in the Family Fun Park of the Indiana State Fair, where people have had the opportunity to interact with animals since 1852.
Boys and girls of all ages and sizes waited for their turns. Jim Edwards, who owns the business, said he tries to get every kid on a pony if possible.
“Some of the inner city kids have never seen a pony before,” he said. “They’ve never touched one. I try to not turn away any kids.”
Jim began the pony ride business after his kids grew too big for their childhood ponies. Rather than selling the ponies, Jim took them to church picnics and the Marion County Fair in his free time.
“I don’t play golf. I don’t do anything like that,” Jim said. “This is a good pastime.”
Ashley Scott, of Westfield, carried her 2-year-old daughter toward the riding ring.
“I like horses,” Jordan said. But despite this claim, she shied away from Olaf, refusing to ride the pony.
“He’s really nice,” Rachel said, trying to ease the child’s fears.
“Nice horsey,” called Jordan’s father, Brent Scott. “Do you want to pet his head?”
After stroking the coarse pony hair and hearing a few more words of encouragement, Jordan let her mom place her on the horse, where she sat upright and rigid in the saddle. Jordan’s little body bobbed up and down as Olaf made his way around the ring. By the end of the ride, Jordan was grinning.
“She tends to be fearful of things, and I thought being on top of a horse was good for her,” Ashley said. “She really likes watching them. It was a good first step.”
Sunny Blackburn, of Noblesville, has worked with Easy-Ride-EM for 16 years and has been a partner in the business for four.
“I think it can build self-confidence in them,” Sunny said. “You know, they want to do it so badly, but they’re afraid because it’s such a big animal. They’re afraid it’s going to hurt them. If they [parents] can get them up there, then they don’t want to get off.”
Sophie Gordon is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.