Sunday, July 7, 2013

A day at the Stoughton Fairgrounds

I was at the fair yesterday. I wasn’t interested in the rides or the games, but I took time for a quick action shot.

I went to see the animals. I was in 4-H, a great organization for rural children, and I wanted to support the work these kids do. As always, the camera was draped across my chest. I started in the poultry barn. Chickens came in wide variety. It must be a challenge to be a judge, but this little guy won my prize of Mr. Congeniality.

Next up—the cattle barn. There’s nothing quite as clean as a 4-H project dairy cow. They gleam bright white with perfectly trimmed tufts of hair. Don’t you love those big, brown liquid eyes?

I pulled myself away from the slumbering beasts and wandered into the judging barn. A troll’s paradise awaited me inside. There they were—Stoughton’s finest goats. Funny, sweet, and yes, smelly, goats are a favorite of mine. Maybe I’m spending too much time with the trolls, but if you’ve read Blue on the Horizon, you will understand the truth about trolls and goats.

My goat fetish satisfied, I found a line snaking out of another barn. I took up position, and paid my 6 dollars to see one of the most exciting events I’ve ever witnessed: an old-fashioned horse pull. Two weight classes, middleweight and heavyweight. Nearly all Belgians with two darker Percheron, huge athletes with stoic, sturdy farmers handling them. If they worked together, they made the act of pulling a dynameter 27.5 feet look easy, but if they moved as individuals, the team would struggle to haul the load.

My favorite middleweight team was owned and driven by the man holding the reins below. We were told he has had two back surgeries in the past year, but as long as he can take up this position, he will continue to drive his team. The man to the side, his son, was one of the few who could walk a team around the arena without assistance. He was huge himself, but dwarfed by the team.

I was in awe when the heavyweights entered the arena. Their massive bodies so thick and muscled, they looked like bulldogs with tiny horse heads. Of course, that was an illusion. Those heads were massive too.

Strangely, the heavyweights seemed calmer, more certain of their role in the arena. This team waited with an old man and young boy, the only means of holding back 2 ton or more of horse capable of pulling a 48,000-pound wagon. Now that's trust.

To any animal lovers our there, none of this was abusive. Everyone one of these creatures is a prized possession of their proud owner. If a team started to tire, the driver would quickly have them unhitched and withdrawn from the competition. These men knew their horses very well. It was an honor to watch them work as the draft horses were breed to be. The announcer was very informative and told the crowd that several of the horses had been raised by Amish farmers and then sold, at a high price no doubt, to an "English" farmer. It's something I'll never forget.
Above is the winning heavyweight team preparing for the competition. Look at the size of those haunches. That was not a small man. He had to be over 6 foot and well over 200 pounds. This pair seemed the calmest of all 18 teams. They have lost only one pull thus far in 2013. If I remember correctly, that is 8 wins so far. Incredible.

I’m almost positive that Oton was there, I could smell his distinct, uh, odor on the breeze, but he stayed hidden. Too many humans around, but I still have to study the photos. I’ll let you know if I find evidence of his presence in the next few days.


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