This past weekend I went back to my roots for the charmin’ Carman Country Fair, taking Felix (The Rio Zipper), through his paces in some pleasure classes. I haven’t shown there, or at any Country Fair in a few years- the hunter/jumper world kind of kidnapped me and wouldn’t let go. It was kind of cool looking back at the different perspectives I’ve had as a participant over time, and how things change (and don’t) as I age.
I wasn’t one of those kids who competed at country fairs in the “hobby horse” classes, or the lead-line classes from an early age. I didn’t start showing until I was 11 or 12. When I did, it was through 4H on my first horse, Otis. Back then, I couldn’t care less what ribbon I got- or how precise our stop was at cone 2 in Western Horsemanship, or if our lope was slow enough for the judge; I did however hate showmanship. For the most part, I was just happy to be on my favourite horse. The stress of competing can’t phase a horse-crazy kid. Or shouldn’t anyway.
As I got older, progressed through horses and levels, started going to more fairs and started trying out for the Regional team- I enjoyed the competition more. It mattered more if I placed in my horsemanship classes, or got Monty over every jump in our little equitation classes. I wanted those points. I wanted those ribbons. I wanted to beat my peers, the ones who always seemed to have the perfect patterns, and have no problem getting that perfect lope in pleasure classes. I still hated showmanship, but I wanted so badly to make that regional team, win those stake classes, and be named a high-point.
The year I finally made the regional team and got to go to my first provincials was so exciting! I was finally one of the cool kids who could did well enough to be named to the legendary Central Region Team. The confidence this gave me through the next few years of country fair showing was irreplaceable. Belonging to that team proved that I had potential. I could hold my own against my team-mates in try-outs, and we were the top team in the Province 3 years running. Therefore, I was someone in this world. Having those perfect patterns, the perfect turnout, it was expected now. With that behind me, all the sweat, blood, and tears before (and after) were made worth it. Showmanship still sucked (maybe not as much as trail now), though, even if I could pull off a good pattern. Also, who could forget the Central Team rap of ’07?
After I had retired from 4H, and there was no more provincials to attend, country fairs were still a staple in my summer schedule. Now combined with a few more hunter/jumper shows, I was starting to be torn in different directions. HJ shows were new, and I felt like a nobody again. I was showing up on my humble appy and paint, lost among the close knit barn-groups that dominate that world. The braiding techniques that were more than acceptable at 4H shows were nowhere near close to HJ level. I knew how to rock a show hack/road hack class (thank you country fairs), but found that many of the norms from country fairs were not present (prize money, for one). It was a different world. One where I was being pushed in new ways, having to start all over at the bottom. Country fairs remained my home turf for a few years yet. Me and my trusty (somedays) chestnut mare were rock solid with each other. Just don’t ask us to do trail. Showmanship was acceptable, though. The jumping classes at these shows were no problem. Summer after summer we rocked the fair circuit, whether it was a great show, or hilariously awful show (if you knew Flash, you’ll recall those), high-points weren’t uncommon. Those were some of the best summers. Those of us still left-over from the Central Team were the cool Senior class regulars. The ones who chatted and joked in the line up while the judge made their decisions. Or even in rail classes as we passed one another. It wasn’t the same if one of us wasn’t there. Something felt off.
One by one, us regulars drifted away. Whether it be to move for school, just get busy with “real-life”, or get involved more heavily in another part of the horse-world (Hunter/Jumper, for example). The classes started getting smaller, and the atmosphere that once surrounded the fair circuit changed. Other things took over; there were bigger classes to win, other high-points, different teams to make that took precedence. The skills we learned from all those years on the circuit forming our base for success in all these other areas. Showmanship, funny enough, probably lending it’s fair share life skills (as stupid as it is).
Coming back to Carman Fair this year was fun, and exciting- for many reasons. I was riding a gorgeous young prospect, I got to pull out my fabulous Western saddle, and there is just a novelty to going to a country fair whether or not you’re participating, or just taking in the sites, sounds, and smells. One of the challenges to Carman Fair has always been that the Midway is traditionally set up right beside the horse ring. From my point of view, this is a right of passage every rider on the fair circuit goes through. Getting their horse used to the crazy carnies popping in and out of the trees, or the “dragon wagon” rattling from the corner, or the kids shooting out of the slide behind the trees (with the carnies). What a perfect experience for a young horse.
Coming home to Ctown Fair, I knew I was likely to be the only one of the “regulars” from the prov. team days there. The fair itself has shrunk dramatically since the “good old days” (I did not just use that term, what am I, 60?). I was going to give Felix some experience, and maybe catch a glimpse of the magic that used to surround the show. A hilarious perspective change that I noticed immediately was me preaching to my mom about the importance of making sure Fe was clipped and ring ready- whereas she kept saying “Oh, it’s just carman fair. It won’t matter that much”. Completely the flip side of where we started out. The next thing I noticed was the emptiness of the barns the night before. There were some horses there, but not that many competitors as there used to be, braiding tails, putting slinkies on, making sure everything was show ready for the early morning start. It was like a shadow of what used to be.
I’m making this sound depressingly nostalgic. It wasn’t, it was just somewhat different then the memories that hold true. Overall it was a great show, both results wise and enjoyment wise. It was somewhat lonely, not knowing many people I was competing against (and there only being 5-10 of us).
I’ve been talking a lot about how things have changed over the years, which is easy to do when you look back at how much you’ve grown as an individual. But really, things haven’t changed too much in the bigger picture. The people running the show are still bickering about the same things. There are still some riders complaining about the same things. There are still fussy show moms, and kids showing only because they’ve been doing it since they were 2 and their parents love it. It was still classically hot, and it still stormed as it always does right after the fireworks. It’s still very much the Carman Fair. The same, but different.
Showmanship still sucks, for the record.