As shown in the first installment of this series, this small town fair has strong roots in the agricultural economy that surrounds it. The rural farm life informs nearly every aspect of the fair, from the attendees’ attire (work boots, jeans, John Deere hats are all predominant) to the activities like tractor pulls and livestock judging. It’s plainly evident that the communities surrounding the fair simply wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the blue-collar work that pays the mortgages of the vast majority of the county.
And even if one doesn’t make his or her living by raising crops or livestock, they can appreciate the skill and work ethic of those who do.
Case In Point
One aspect of the fair that has grown in popularity since I last attended 15 years ago is the equestrian arena. Horse-based events barely existed when I used to frequent the fair but they are hugely popular now, to the point where a large portion of the grounds have been dedicated to a riding arena complete with cattle chutes and seating for dozens of fans.
The arena hosts everything from traditional Western horse shows that consist of fancy duds and prancing horses to impressive displays of roping and riding. There are team events that involve steer roping and timed cattle sorting, as well as contests of speed and agility like barrel racing. And even if your riding skills amount to nothing more than sitting astride that pony at the carnival when you were five years old, you will easily recognize the skill of these riders.
I was surprised to see so many teens (and even younger kids) involved in the equine events. While many teens are sitting at home leveling-up on Xbox or whiling away their time on Hulu, these youngsters are skillfully guiding their horses through a gauntlet of obstacles. And it certainly looked more exciting than mashing buttons on a game pad.
Considering the physicality of this sport, there’s no worry of childhood obesity in these young participants, although I’d recommend a helmet. Recovering from a head injury after a spill can be a lot tougher than losing your childhood chubbiness, I reckon.
Sort Em Out, Load Em Up
Something I found particularly interesting was the Ranch Hand Rodeo, a series of team events based on real-world scenarios that cowhands face on a daily basis. The first event involved a sorting challenge in which a four-person team must separate three numbered cattle, in order, from the rest of the herd. The ten cattle are each numbered 0 through 9 and begin the round huddled in a corner of the arena. As the announcer says “Come a ridin”, the team approaches on horseback. The announcer then calls a random number (number 5, for example) and the team must separate that cow from the herd, guide it to the other side of the arena, and do the same with the next two cattle in the numbered sequence (numbers 6 and 7, in this case). While each team is vying to accomplish this task in the shortest time possible, the real challenge lies in the fact that they must not allow any other cattle to the other side of the arena. Successful teams require not only excellent horsemanship but teamwork and strategy to keep the cattle where they want them. It’s remarkable when done well, but entertaining no matter what.
Working cattle ranchers have to load cattle for transport after they are sorted, so there is also a loading event. A truck and cattle trailer are parked in the middle of the arena, surrounded by cattle fencing (horns and hooves are not friendly to chrome bumpers and paint). The teams are then faced with the challenge of separating a specific cow from the herd, roping it, and wrestling it into the waiting trailer. It’s also a timed event and when the trailer door is slammed shut and the locking pin is set, the clock stops. It’s a fairly straightforward premise, but when a particularly stubborn steer refuses to go where he’s told, it can get quite entertaining.
While all of these events are rooted in the reality of daily cattle farming, I know full well that in reality doing this work on horseback is all but a thing of the past. Even when I worked on my uncle’s feedlot as a teenager we relied on modern four-wheeler ATVs as our trusty steed. I realize there are holdouts and exceptions, but either way it’s great to see the old-school, hardcore cowboy skill sets being upheld by new generations.