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posted: 10/13/2013 4:46 PM

Visitors get a taste of 'Mild West' at Danada

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  • Rick Vlahos of the MidWest Renegade Equestrian Drill Team leads the team during the singing of the national anthem to kick off the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.

       Rick Vlahos of the MidWest Renegade Equestrian Drill Team leads the team during the singing of the national anthem to kick off the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Jacqui Zurawski of Wheaton and her daughter Jozie, 2, paint a pumpkin during the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.

       Jacqui Zurawski of Wheaton and her daughter Jozie, 2, paint a pumpkin during the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Jake Wagner, 6 of Addison completes the "Canopy Climb" at the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.

       Jake Wagner, 6 of Addison completes the "Canopy Climb" at the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday in Wheaton.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 

The public was treated to a tamer version of the Wild West at the Danada Fall Festival on Sunday at the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton.

In the arena, cowboys on horseback were shooting, but the targets were balloons filled with water. And they were using black powder, not live rounds.

If you love horses, this festival, which offered everything from tractor-drawn hayrides to hobbyhorses, was a true delight.

Among those enjoying the festivities were Tracie Johnston of Glen Ellyn and her 4-year-old son, Brendan.

"It's a celebration of fall and horses. And he's excited," said Johnston, who said she grew up with horses in Ohio.

Although it was their first time at the Fall Festival, the two have taken hayrides at Danada before.

"I think it's just a magical moment for my son to be able to see it," Johnston said.

One of the highlights was the exhibition put on by the MidWest Renegades Drill Team.

Bev Vlahos, head coach of the drill team, which is based in Bull Valley, said a variety of horses are used, including quarter horses, draft horses, Arabians and Haflingers.

The drill team included Vlahos' daughter Jenny, who entertained the audience with a Roman riding drill that involved her standing on the backs of two horses.

Another drill was a bullwhip routine in which Kammie Medina cracked balloons.

Peggy Powell of Wheaton said she loves watching the horses. "It's a great, fun family activity," she said.

In The Corral, Uncle Bub's of Westmont BBQ & Catering rounded up burgers, hot dogs, curly fries, and mac and cheese for the hungry guests, who took their food to benches where they enjoyed hearing the traditional sounds of the Plank Road Folk Music Society.

Many people from the area took advantage of the sunny day to walk or bike to Danada.

"It was such a beautiful day today," Wheaton resident Kate O'Donnell said, who told herself, "I got to get on my bike and ride over here.

For Doug Matlock of Plainfield, it was a sentimental occasion.

"We got married here on the grounds. It's a family tradition. We picnic where we got married and come to see the Fall Festival," said Matlock, who arrived with wife Lisa, daughter Lily, 9, and son Connor, 7.

Among the activities in the main arena was a demonstration of therapeutic riding by the Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities, based in Winfield, which provides a program of therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social challenges.

Nancy Winkelman, program director, said the horses are carefully chosen.

"We have to be very careful and make sure that the horses are kind, gentle, very flexible," she said. "They have to be very trustworthy."

One of the favorites on display at organization's tent was Thoka, an Icelandic horse.

Among the benefits for the children who participate, Winkelman said, are improving balance or motor skills.

"The therapists of many of these individuals greatly agree and comment that riding the horse helps them develop muscle strength, which then in turn helps the therapist at the clinic achieve many of the goals that they have set for them," Winkelman said.

Another benefit is the development of self-confidence and self-esteem.

"There are team sports that aren't appropriate for our riders, and, therefore, riding becomes their special activity in life, she said. "This is when they can become a shining star."

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