Hopefully, everyone who’s owned and shown horses, has had the opportunity, at least once, to show at the fair. It’s fair season here in Ohio, the state fair just closed, but the local and county fairs, will continue into the fall. For some, the fair marks the end of their 4-H showing season, for others, it’s a yearly mini-vacation, and it’s something I have many fond memories of.
Our county didn’t have it’s own fair, so every August, we packed up the horse and trailer, to move to Croton, OH for the week of the Hartford Independent Fair. Croton, if you’ve never been, is easy to miss on a map, but not so easy to miss with your nose, given the number of egg farms that call Croton, home. Being in August, the weather almost always includes oppressive heat, and torrential downpours, at any given time. Tank tops and mud boots were a basic staple, as well as Chee-zits and Mt. Dew. A tab at one of the restaurant tents kept you from starving, but the packed snacks got you through long days.
Our fairgrounds, at least at the time, had dorms for boys and girls, both were in desperate need of condemning. The showers were always cold, and you never even considered going into the bathroom without some kind of shoes on. The bunks were squeaky and rusty, justifying packing an extra towel or blanket to tuck into the bottom of the top bunk, to act as a “crusty catcher.” Painting a delightful picture, aren’t I? Despite all that, we looked forward to it with the same reverence as Christmas every year. A whole week of noting but horses and fun, and for many of us, away from our parents! Don’t get me wrong, as we got older, the crusty dorms lost some appeal, and we’d find ways to bunk with friends who had campers and trailers with living quarters, but it was still heaven to us.
I have a million memories, mostly good, some not so good, like the time I stopped in the race horse barn to say hello to a friend, and got a nice chunk bitten out of my arm. Or, the year Buddy got his nose caught on a lead rope chain in his stall, and needed stitches, during the big, evening open show, while I was wearing my favorite winter white chaps! I had to have someone else hold him for the vet, so I would stay clean, I felt so bad!
The Hartford Fair was where the County Horse Royalty were crowned each year. A feat that took me three years to accomplish, but I finally earned the title, the summer after my senior year in high school. I’d always received high scores for interviews, testing, and essays, but that was the year Buddy and I finally pulled the whole package together. It was glorious! I prided myself on changing the “image” of the horse queen. After studying the Quarter Horse Congress Queen pageants year after year, I knew it was time for a change. Whenever I was out in public, I wore nice outfits with my crown and sash. I talked to everyone, I posed for pictures, even on the rainy days, with my mud boots, I still put myself together for appearances. I took my role very seriously, and I wanted the rest of the world to take me seriously too.
Mostly, it was a week to bond with my friends. Crystal, Courtney, Ronda, Becky, we had the most amazing times in those weeks! I miss those days! We got in trouble, we got each other out of it, we danced and sang, and worked hard and showed all week long. I wouldn’t trade a moment. We made friends there too, like the younger girls in the dorm, who called Crystal and I, “Pretty Girl.” They would wake us every morning, with their singsong voices, as the dorm moms made the rounds to get everybody up and moving. Then towards the end of the week, with their little shoulders sagging, after the livestock sales. I remember walking across the fairgrounds, hearing running footsteps approach me from behind. Before I could turn, a sobbing little person threw herself at my leg, and held on for dear life. I was stunned, I just looked at her and asked “what’s wrong?” Her behavior made it seem like something horrible had happened. To her, it had. In between sniffs and sobs, she choked out, “Pretty Girl? Do you have to sell your horse at the end of the fair?” The weight of her question started to sink in, as I explained that no, we took them home when we were done. She hiccuped and burst into fresh sobbing, then stammered, “I just sold my pig-geeeeeeeee!” Poor baby, I felt so bad. I didn’t know where her parents were, they should have been there to explain and comfort her. I hugged her and assured her her piggy would surely have a nice life elsewhere (what’s one little lie?), then walked her back to her barn, before continuing on to mine.
I guess it’s safe to say, not everyone will leave the fair with good memories. Those who left every year with empty trailers, would have at least had a check in their pocket for the effort. But that must not have been much of a consolation to her. Maybe we don’t consider other livestock, like pigs, cows, and chickens to be members of the family, like we tend to do with our horses, but to that little girl, maybe that pig was her best friend.
To all showmen and women at the Hartford Fair, staying up late, getting up early… washing your hair at the barn wash rack so there’s enough pressure to get all the shampoo out, doing quick laundry in the sink, taking a week out of your lives to spend with your animals and friends, a week that you’ve spent the entire summer preparing for… I salute you. You’re squares in a beautiful quilt, of a slice of life that not everyone is lucky enough to be a part of. Make the most of every moment in every day, and treasure the memories for the rest of your lives!