Horse Tales: The Grahamsville Little World’s Fair

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The 142nd Grahamsville “Little World’s Fair” took place Aug. 19 – 21. The “Little World’s Fair” is the longest-running independent fair in New York State. Hosted by the Neversink Agricultural Society, it is also the official Sullivan County Fair.

We decided to head over to see the fair on Friday, which was also my birthday. I was eager to watch the 4-H youth shows – the horse show in particular, as I remembered showing my first horse in my first show there many years ago. The “Little World’s Fair” did not disappoint; it provided a very enjoyable day, with all the sights and sounds and tastes that fair-goers anticipate all year long.

On Friday morning, youngsters from tots to teens could be seen preparing their animals for the events, which included an Open Horse Show, Youth Swine Show, Youth and Open Sheep Show, Youth and Open Goat Show and Youth Alpaca Show. Saturday was the 4-H Horse Fun Show and the Youth and Open Dairy Show; Sunday featured the Open Rabbit Show and Youth and Open Beef Show. There was Youth Rabbit and Cavy Showmanship & Judging, as well as Youth Poultry, Showmanship and Egg Judging ongoing in the Agricultural Building, where visitors could watch chicks hatching out of their eggs in an incubator. The Grahamsville Fair wouldn’t be complete without the much-anticipated Draft Horse Pulling Contest, along with the Lumberjack Show, Horseshoe Tournament, Classic Car Show and Watermelon Eating Contest.

In the 4-H barn, flags and signs from various horse farms and stables were draped along the horse stalls and sides of the barn, with trunks, riding tack and neatly stacked bales of hay. 4-H’ers offered displays and were happy to describe their posters and talk about their animals; 4-H leaders were seen giving instructions and last minute tips to youngsters before they brought their horses out to show.

Outside the 4-H Barn, young riders were busy washing and grooming their horses, some applying products to enhance the shine on their horses’ hooves, others brushing and carefully combing manes and tails. Many weeks were spent preparing for the annual fair and shows, and the animals as well as their riders and handlers were in tip-top shape, showcasing their efforts.

At the Open Horse Show on Aug. 19, 32 classes were offered, beginning with Walk/Jog Western Showmanship and ending with English Command. There were Novice divisions in both Western and English, for riders in their first or second year of loping or cantering; Youth divisions for both Western and English, for riders ages 18 or under as of Jan. 1, 2022 who show at a lope or canter; and Open divisions for both riding disciplines, for those of any age. Walk/Trot/Jog entries may not have shown in any division at a canter or lope and may not cross enter in any other division.

Western or English Showmanship classes are sometimes referred to as “Fitting and Showmanship,” “Showmanship In-Hand,” “Showmanship at Halter” or “Halter Showmanship,” the latter two referring to the fact that the horse is fitted with a halter, and the person showing the horse is on the ground rather than on the horse. Showmanship class is a performance class, in which horses compete individually; each horse is led through a series of maneuvers and is judged by the handler’s abilities to present a fit horse and to communicate with the horse to correctly move through a pattern. Showmanship is not the same as a “Halter Class,” in which the horse itself is judged on its conformation, its action moving through maneuvers and how well it typifies its breed type.

In the Command class riders are given commands by the judge and are expected to move their horse into that gait immediately. Those that do not are eliminated one by one; the remaining rider at the end of the class is the winner. Photo by Judy Van Put

Western or English Pleasure classes are performance classes where contestants compete simultaneously in the arena. They travel around the perimeter of the arena and are asked at the discretion of the judge to walk, jog/trot, lope/canter, stop and reverse direction. The horses are evaluated on their manners and the quality of their movement through these maneuvers while remaining quiet and calm in a slow but collected gait, traveling on a loose rein. Horses should be relaxed and exhibit a calm and responsive disposition and appear to be a “pleasure” to ride.

In the Western and English Equitation Classes, the riders rather than the horses are being judged. In an equitation class, the judge looks at the rider’s form, watching the level of communication between horse and rider, and paying attention to the rider’s seat and how they handle the reins and other riding props used such as crops. Riders are expected sit with good posture, with head held high, eyes up and shoulders back. The ankles should be flexed in with the heels down, the calf of the leg in contact with the horse and slightly behind the girth, and balls of the feet lightly in the stirrups. Riders should have a proper light seat and hands that are light and supple, that convey the impression of being in complete control of the horse should an emergency arise.

The Western/English Command class is not a gymkhana event but rather an exciting competition which exhibits a well-trained and responsive performance horse. Riders are dressed in suitable Western or English attire, and contestants are directed by the judge to perform a command, such as walk, jog/trot, lope/canter, stop, reverse or back up, and are given just a couple of steps in order to complete the command. Contestants are eliminated one at a time at the discretion of the judge if commands are not executed immediately. The last remaining contestant is the winner of the class.

The horse show was well attended, with spectators lining the hillsides around the arena, to a backdrop of the great Ferris wheel reaching above the lovely vista of the Catskill Mountains beyond. At the end of the day, fair attendees all agreed that the 142nd Grahamsville “Little World’s Fair” was a great success.

by Judy Van Put

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