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Posts tagged “Fairs

Think We Can

IMG_4248(Click on photo for best resolution)


Over the last two hours the competition has been narrowed down to four teams. Months of practice and conditioning weigh on the next few minutes and the suspense, like the warm humid air heavy with dust from the arena, is thick enough to cut with a knife. A dozen teams of gentle giants wait patiently under the glaring floodlights, unable to leave until the event has finished. They stand at the rail quietly, tails swatting, harnesses softly jingling. Penance for not placing.


The drivers of the remaining teams watch their competition with steely looks of resolve, their grim determination etched upon their face. Each man knows their team’s physical limits and how far they can push them, but can they judge their heart on any given night? Can they measure their horse’s will, their desire to put everything they have into the task they’re going to be asked to do? Man and beast must strive to work together, become a team of three at that moment. For it’s not always the best driver or the strongest horses that win the contest, but the team that’s willing to transcend human and equine limits to work together for a common goal.



That Song About the Midway by Bonnie Raitt from Streetlights


I’m not sure what started my love affair with country fairs. It probably came from visiting the county fair when I was a kid, or maybe it’s just the Gypsy in me that draws me to them? I’m not even sure if I could describe what I like most about them. The colors? The sights? The sounds? The smells? I don’t know. Certainly the horse and pony pulls are a big part of the attraction, and the animals in general. But it’s more than that. It’s a feel …  like that giddy, excited, Christmas morning feeling I used to get when I was a child. I still get that feeling when I’m going to a fair.

But fairs have changed dramatically since the days of my youth. There’s a considerable amount of emphasis on commercial sales of goods and byproducts now, and a lot less focus on exhibits, games and rides. The midway used to be the hub of any fair, with it’s noisy rows of brightly-lit booths packed with colorful stuffed toys and trinkets waiting to be won by young men and women who’d eagerly present their prize to their aptly impressed date. Some fairs even had race tracks for harness racing, demolition derby and a variety of other events. And you could always count on finding several rows of barns chocked full of bleating sheep, softly mooing cows, crowing roosters and clucking chickens. But many of these common fair sights are gone, replaced by a handful of miserable critters in a “petting zoo” and an abundance of booths that want to sell you everything from real estate to religion.

I miss the old-time fairs with their pulsating, vibrant midways. But that won’t keep me from going. No, I’ll still be there “with my ticket stubs and my blues.”



I haven’t, for one reason or another, been to any fairs yet this summer. I’d like to attend at least one, just so I can get a few photos of the horse or pony pulls. There’s only a few more fairs left before we move into the fall, at which point I’ll have to wait until next year for the chance to shoot a pull.

Red & Blue



In previous blogs I’ve talked about how horse and pony pulls tap into some of my favorite childhood memories. That was one of the reasons why I made a point of getting out last summer to photograph some pulling events. But horse and pony pulls also let me practice shooting an activity I know and enjoy, and as a novice, I think it’s easier to shoot an event when you know what to expect. Sometimes the frustration comes from not knowing where the best vantage point might be or how best to capture the shot you’re hoping to get. Other times you arrive at a venue only to discover the only view you’ll have has been obstructed. Such was the case with the photo above.


In years past, this event was held in a small corner of a large country fairground. There were wooden bleachers for the audience and little else between the viewers and the action. Typically, the pulls were always on Friday and started with ponies in late afternoon and were followed by the horses, which often ran late into the night. In fact, the horse classes usually ran long after the main part of the fair had closed for the night, leaving just a handful of diehards who always stayed until the battle finally ended. I remember going to work Saturday morning with little more than a scant few hours of sleep under my belt. Good times!


Back then there wasn’t a chain link fence around the pulling pit. I guess this was before everyone became ridiculously lawsuit happy and therefore, we got to enjoy this high octane event without having to peer through the metal diamond of a fence. I’m not saying this sport doesn’t run the risk of being dangerous …. heck, just waking around a fair can be dangerous! In fact, I was at a fair once when a team of horses snapped the hitch just as they lunged into their first pull. They broke away from the driver, ran around the pit, then right out the entrance and directly back to their trailer where they stood waiting for help. Hugely scary and dangerous? Yes! But all they really needed to do to prevent this sort of thing was put a functioning gate at the entry of the arena. Duh! Sort of a no-brainer for anyone who owns a horse!


I was sorely disappointed when after a long absence, I arrived at this fairground only to discover the entire pulling pit had been fenced off with ten foot (high) chain link fencing. Huh? So much for taking pictures! Metal risers replaced the old worn wooden bleachers and I carefully scaled them hoping that the highest row might grant me a view over the top of the fence. I was able to get some pictures without the fence blocking my view, but my pictures clearly show the obstructed view on the opposite side. Some of the best photos I took were of the teams waiting at the rail, yet most of those were ruined by the encroaching fence.


Sadly, I probably won’t go back there this fall. I’ll keep searching for venues that in an effort to be safe, haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater.


Sept 11, 2010. 3:19 PM EST.

Canon EOS 7D

ISO: 100, 93mm, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8


Lens: Tamron 70-200mm

Lightroom3: Crop






I’ve started to look at horses and I admit, it hasn’t been an easy transition. I can’t help thinking that it ought to be a whole lot more “fun” than it’s actually turning out to be. I’m still feeling quite raw over the loss of Tia. I mean, I can usually go through my normal, routine day without breaking into tears. Most of my thoughts about her are focused on so many happy memories. But trying to explain to a seller what I’m hoping to replace can start to get a little iffy. I can write about Tia and be pretty much OK, but talking about her seems to stop me in my tracks. And that always takes me by surprise. I’m used to talking about Tia … I’m just not used to using the past tense. I find myself having flashbacks, then my voice wavers, trails off into mumbles and (I HATE this) I start to get teary. Or my nose runs. Christ. I didn’t carry on this much or this long when my parents died. Overall, everyone I have talked to or dealt with has been very sympathetic and I know I should try to use this experience as a way to learn how to accept the empathy of strangers with grace. But gosh it feels awkward.


And touching a new prospect and then riding one? Well that brings a whole new meaning to the word weird. I keep asking my heart if I’ll know. Will I know when I see the right horse? Will I know when I touch them that they’ll be the horse I’m meant to have? Will I know it, will I feel it? Will the ground shift under my feet, will the sun break through the clouds and stream down on us? How will I know? Well, in all fairness, I didn’t know Tia was going to be my heart horse until I’d had her a few years. Yeah, it took that long for the bond to develop. So I’m probably being an idiot for even letting myself wade into that pond of mixed emotions right now.


The test ride part is hard too.  First off, I can’t STAND an audience.  I’m not comfortable having two or three people stand around and watch me test drive a horse I’ve only met ten or fifteen minutes prior. Sheesh. I really have to zone to get past my discomfort with that. Second, I’m so used to riding a horse that fits me like a glove. I could honestly count on both hands the number of times I’ve ridden any other horse since I got Tia 22 years ago. So that’s a big hurdle to get over. I wish I was one of those people who enjoys riding all sorts of different horses, but I’m not. I like what I like and I tend to stick with it.


And last but not least, I’m feeling some spousal weirdness. I’ll call it lack of support for now, because I honestly don’t know what signals I’m getting there. So on top of everything else, I need to do the sit down and talk thing with him. He’s not supporting my endeavors in a way that makes me feel good about my search. He’s usually not a critical person, but for some odd reason he seems to think he knows it all when it comes to what I want or need in a horse. I don’t find that amusing one bit, given that I’ve supported him through the purchase and resale of three different horses over the past ten years. Hell, I don’t even LIKE the horse he rides now, but I supported him when he decided that was what he wanted. It’s called teamwork. So yeah, the vibes I’m getting need to be addressed.


Well, time to giddy up and go do a test drive. Wish me luck!



Aug 21, 2010. 2:59 PM EST.

Canon EOS 7D

ISO 125, 135mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.8

Lens: Tamron 70-200mm

Lightroom3: Brightness/contrast adj.

The Loading Zone

When I was at the Equine Affair I wandered around a bit and took a few pictures of the things going on behind the scenes. Most of the pictures I tried to take were too cluttered to be much good.  Just before I happened upon this scene I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get many ‘keepers.” I was pondering this as I leaned in the doorway of one of big barns, when I noticed this young woman waiting to load a horse onto an immense, multiple horse trailer. The sun was sinking and as she circled her horse they moved in and out of the one little patch of daylight that partially lit the alley. The woman and horse both looked exhausted. I’m sure they had been up since long before dawn and the day was probably far from over. The horse was covered with a warm wool cooler, but the sparsely dressed woman shivered in the cold brisk wind. Five minutes passed, then ten as they waited their turn to load. In the last few moments before they stepped into the trailer I caught them in this fading patch of sunlight.



Nov. 11, 2010. 4:44 PM EST.

Canon EOS 7D

ISO: 400, 85mm, 1/160, f/11

Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6

The Leader

Taken at the Equine Affair. There were so many beautiful horses, but so much ‘stuff’ going on in the background that it was very challenging to get a good shot of anything, especially outdoors. I’m so used to taking pictures of things where the setting is predominantly clean and uncluttered that this kind of flustered me. Every time I tried to capture a picture something moved into the frame or there was something I didn’t want in the background or foreground. For example, there were large green and blue dumpsters everywhere you looked. Obviously, a huge four-day event like this needs a lot of dumpsters, but they make a lousy backdrop for a picture. So I did my best, but I didn’t come home with nearly as many photos as I thought I might. I fired off a few more pictures of this man leading his horse, but they’ll have to wait until I figure out how to clean up the background. I found someone in my area who teaches PS5 & Lightroom. I have my first lesson on Monday and I  can’t wait to get started!




It’s still pitch black out, but I’m up and at ’em early today because I’m going on a shoot for an Ed Heaton seminar. Hopefully, I’ll shoot something good and you’ll get to see it here! Meanwhile, here’s a photo I took at the Lebanon Fair. I like horse pulls, but I love pony pulls even more! Ponies have so much personality and pluck!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s …

Dock Dogs!

Someone forgot to tell the Pointer this class was for distance, not height! Great job on both, though!



Other competitors:

Two very serious dogs: a Malinois and a Black Lab. Both were very focused on the job at hand.

The next competitor (Yellow Lab) was somewhat of a surprise. He was short legged and a bit overweight, but he put everything he had into it. Turns out, he actually did better than I thought he would! Which just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. The series of pictures I have of him are very cute, as he had a tendency to look like he was running in midair!

This Belgian Tervuren had a rather unique approach that the announcer said he uses every time. He gets fantastic distance and often wins, but he does so by traveling in an almost vertical position. This picture shows his takeoff, just before he starts to go vertical. No other competitor seemed to use that technique and I suspect that’s just the way he rolls!

This senior competitor (age 9) was “visually impaired” (cross-eyed) but he still had a blast. He required a little more support at the launch, but he jumped just fine and had fun doing it!

A younger model from the same handler! Love the ears!


No, it’s not Michelle Pfeiffer or Rutger Hauer. It’s birds of prey and the husband/wife team who handle them. Unfortunately, the woman seemed play more to the audience on the opposite side of the arena. I considered moving, but that would have me shooting directly into a very bright 2 PM sun. So I settled for what I could get from the spot I picked. Which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t exactly great either.

The husband actually seemed (IMO) to have a better rapport with the birds. Or maybe his approach was just “different”? For one, he was QUIET while the wife never shut up. (I can hear the “whoosh” of all the male heads nodding …) She was wired for sound, but her voice bounced off the surrounding trees and outbuildings and just echoed around the arena. Nobody understand a word she said. But she rambled on. I understand wanting to educate the public. Heck, I wanted to know more myself! But I found her monologue enormously distracting, then irritating as I strained to hear what she said she was going to do next. Having that information might have helped capture better pictures, but her voice was so muffled that all I could do was guess.

Yes, she looked a “tad” nutty, but her garb was actually very functional! Her bait bag looks like she’s feeding Godzilla!

At this point she stood near the center of the riding ring and her husband stood at the end. She held one bird, he held the other, then released it. They did this several times. In the picture above and below, the bird had just flown to her and landed.

I was very impressed with how beautifully these birds worked with both handlers. It’s obvious they put an enormous amount of time and energy into the care and training of them. The woman did tell the ages of each bird and although I don’t recall the specifics, I do remember her saying they ranged in age from young (a year or so old) to their mid “teens.”

A redtail hawk! I was pretty wowed by this bird which unfortunately, at this point of my learning curve, meant that I struggled between watching and paying attention to what I was shooting. I’m finding that I take much better pictures when I can “divorce” myself from what I’m shooting. If I’m trying to photograph something I’m really interested in seeing, I don’t get as many quality pictures. If I’m shooting something I’m already familiar with or not involved in the outcome, the pictures turn out much better. This makes me wonder how parents take pictures of their kids playing high contact sports?

I didn’t get as many “keeper” photos of this bird as I hoped and what I did get could have been better. Why is it that we fumble so when something we REALLY want to photograph comes along?  Ug!

So regal and wise!

When they moved to the free flight part of the program, the woman warned spectators that the birds might decided to land very close, either on the fence railing or some other spot. She warned us not to move suddenly or try to touch them. I watched them fly off into nearby trees and one landed on the roof of the small announcer’s booth that I was standing next to. Each time a bird took off, I quickly lost sight of it. Again,  I cursed my location. Suddenly, one of the hawks swooped over and landed right on the desk of the announcement booth! In two quick steps and I was  up the stairs and into the booth, and only a few feet away from the inquisitive bird!

I apologize for the quality of these photos, but this happened so suddenly! There were several young children and adults standing in the booth when the hawk few in. I had a huge zoom lens on my camera and the camera was set for bright outdoor lighting. When I went into the booth it was very dark and the children were a bit startled. I had  all I could do to find a spot to shoot through as I frantically worked to refocus my lens. This all took place in a matter of seconds, and I only managed to get a few shots. Not an ideal situation, but it was quite thrilling for me!

In the blink of an eye, she was off and back to her handler.

I have more photos of the different birds they brought, but I think that’s enough for today!

(Note: If you click on the pictures it might enlarge them. It does for me … I don’t know if it will for you!)

Fair Enough!

Too Long At The Fair

Jesus cried, wept and died
I guess he went up to heaven
I’ve been downtown such a long, long time
I’ll never make it home by seven
Won’t you come & take me home
I’ve been too long at the fair
And, lord, I just can’t stand it anymore

(Bonnie Raitt)

Well, I went back for more. The Haddam Neck fair is a tradition for us, if for no other reason than it’s close by and the parking is usually good. (Unless it’s rained.) This fair is small by my standards, but it’s a local favorite in the same way that the Wayne Country fair was an annual end of summer event when I was growing up.
We always try to make some portion of the horse pulls, and this year we managed to arrive just as the Big Boys were coming in. We watched the beginning of the last class, then decided to grab a bite of dinner and see what was going on elsewhere.
There is always a small exhibit of livestock. I guess the 4-H program has a strong showing there. We saw lots of sheep, which I’d had more than enough of just having come from a three day herding trial! They also had some very cute goats. There was an “earless” breed of goat there, but I didn’t take any pictures because I thought they looked like freaks. They were pretty ugly. Sorry, but some things just ought not to be tinkered with!
It had slipped my mind that Aztec Two-Step was playing at the fair Sunday night. But then we bumped into friends who specifically came to relive their past by listening to the band. Aztec Two-Step has been playing all over hill and dale since my mid teens, a point they touched on several times. It’s a little sad that band humor has come down to making jokes about their AARP membership,  but there you have it. They were performing their Simon and Garfunkle Songbook, which was nice, but I’d rather hear Simon and Garfunkle do their own songs. It was good to see these guys are still make great music together, but we didn’t stick around the bandstand for very long.
Yes, there was a pony ride, but I’ve never seen such midgets at a fair! It seems to me that would exclude any child much over the age of six or so. I can understand maybe having one or two very small ponies for children who are quite young, timid or insecure, but it looked like all the ponies at this ride were stunted or they were minis. I’m not a big fan of minis, so I didn’t spend a lot of time at this tent. The little black pony was grumpy and stood with his ears pinned back the entire time. The white pony was quite sweet and very curious about my camera. Overall, it felt sorta sad and tired under that tent. Nothing like the pony ride at the Hamburg fair, where the handlers were very attentive to their ponies and encouraged any child who happened to pause to think about a ride.  This pony ride was attended by a couple of young adults who seemed much more interested in their own little group than anything else going on around them.
We meandered back over to the pulls just in time to watch the last three teams battle for first place. One team continued to dominate, making the distance easily in one pull. The second team refused to hitch. Pass after pass was made, each time with the same end result: the team lunged ahead just as the hitch was about to commence. Seconds ticked by, with the announcer marking time as the pressure mounted. When clock closed in on the last twenty seconds the team made one final pass, but again refused to hitch. The driver pulled out and accepted third place. The last team gave it their all, but used all three attempts without pulling the full distance. They settled for a gallant second place. We watched the awards and then my favorite part: the leaving of the teams. By then I was tired and had packed my camera away for the night, but I enjoyed watching the gentle giants file out into the dark.

Fair ponies

The Ride

I was six years old, my brother was ten
One July day came running in,
seen a ferris wheel at the edge of town
So, of course, we headed on down

Well it took us an hour to walk that far
Carrying our fortune in a Mason jar
It was all pretty sad, a cheap county fair
With a few old rides but there was ponies there

Well, the ponies stunk and the air was still
In that dusty circle behind the ferris wheel
This old guy smelling of smoke and rum
Swung me up and sat me down on one

Well I’d never rode a horse but I’d seen it done
Cowboy movies made it look like fun
This old man whispered a few soft words
It was the best advice I’ve ever heard

He said “Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

I went up a kid with shaking hands
And I came down a full grown man
It was like he’d cast some Voodoo spell
Things were different for me now, I could tell

‘Cos whenever troubles come wandering in
His rhyme would pop in my head again
And somehow I rode through the needles and nails
Brambles and thorns that life entails

“Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”

Well I know some day farther down the road
I’ll come to the edge of the great unknown
There’ll stand a black horse riderless
And I wonder if I’m ready for this

So I’ll saddle him up and he’ll switch his tail
And I’ll tip my hat and bid fairwell
And lift my song into the air
That I learned at that dusty fair

“Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride

Written by: Sony Tillis and Sam Weedman

Sung by: Chris LeDoux

Top photo:

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 8/21/10
Time: 2:28 PM.
Shutter: 1/400
Aperture: f/2.8
Exposure: Av
ISO: 125
Focal length: 123mm

Bottom Photo:

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 8/21/10
Time: 2:25 PM.
Shutter: 1/800
Aperture: f/2.8
Exposure: Av
ISO: 125
Focal length: 70mm

House of Fun

It’s kind of interesting that the concept of a Fun House hasn’t changed since I was young. When I was in my teens I  looked forward to hitting a couple of summer fairs. There was the Pumpkin Hook Fair; a little rinky-dink fair that was held in a field about five minutes from our farm. The highlight of that fair was ducking into the surrounding cornfield to smoke cigarettes with friends or make out with a boyfriend. This was way before Children of the Corn.

The most highly awaited fair was the Wayne County fair, which was held on the fairgrounds in the township of Palmyra. The WCF was always in late August, just a few weeks before school started. The biggest thrill about the WCF was that it gave you a chance to see classmates that you hadn’t seen all summer. It also gave you a bit of insight as to where you stood in respect to your own clique. Were you still “in” or were you out? Would the kids you called friends last year still accept you as part of their inner circle?

It’s amazing how much teen relationships can change over the course of two months. Our school district encompassed two towns, so some of us didn’t get to see friends who lived more than a bike or a horse ride away. With four kids to raise, my mother refused to masquerade as our personal chauffeur.  Occasionally she would concede and drive us here or there, but for the most part, if we couldn’t get ourselves somewhere then we didn’t count on going.

Two things about the Fun House haven’t changed: They’re brightly colored and they’re very loud. I’ve never understood why the Fun House  has to have really bad rock music blaring from it. Is the gatekeeper deaf? Is the music supposed to cover up the sound of something else, something ominous? Prompted by my older sister, I went through a Fun House once. Never again. I guess my sense of humor doesn’t align with whoever created them . I found the experience creepy and …. well, just not fun.

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 8/21/10
Time: 2:19 PM.
Shutter: 1/400
Aperture: f/2.8
Exposure: Av
ISO: 125
Focal length: 70mm

Heavy Horses

Today I went to a fair in a little blink-of-an-eye  town called Hamburg.  This used to be one of my favorite small fairs, but it’s been at least a dozen years or so since I’ve been back. I go mostly for the horse pulls, but unfortunately, thanks in part to PETA, horse pulls went through a decline several years ago. They’re just starting to make a modest comeback.

When I was eight or nine my parents used to take us to the Little Valley (NY) fair and turn us loose for the day. I was always drawn to the maze of parked horse trailers, where I would wander for hours amid the tethered ponies and heavy horses. My passion for ponies didn’t go unnoticed. Often, an old farmer would hand me a brush or ask me to hold the ponies while he harnessed his team.

I loved being around horses. Every Saturday morning my parents  would drop me off at a farm on Hencoop Hollow and leave me there for the day.  The Pearl’s had a working team of Belgians named King and Jip. Old man Pearl used the team for logging. They had to earn their keep. Sometimes I would find King and Jip turned out with the other horses and ponies. They would stand and swat flies under the willow trees that crossed the large fenced pasture behind the barn. But sometimes times they were confined inside the barn, in narrow standing stalls. No matter where they were I would climb aboard first one, then the other, and lay on their massive backs for hours. When I could find a brush I would groom them until they glistened, pretending they were mine. I adored them. But I loved all the horses and ponies at the Pearl farm. I would try my patience while catching the plucky little pony Corky, then saddle him and trot up and down the dusty, dirt road. Or if I was really lucky Cindy would let me catch and ride her chestnut quarter horse mare, Lady. Oh, I fell in love while cantering Lady through the grassy pasture. I’m sure Lady was always glad to see the weekend come to a close!

But my all-time favorite were the pulls, and I looked forward to the excitement and action! Men and women, both old and young, betting on their favorite teams. The camaraderie of the contestants hasn’t changed. Yes, the competition is still tough, but it was nice to see that everyone still helps each other. I can’t say that about many sports.

It was great to revisit the horse pulls! Perhaps I can do it again soon?

Canon EOS 7D
Date: 8/21/10
Time: 2:59 PM.
Shutter: 1/200
Aperture: f/2.8
Exposure: Av
ISO: 125
Focal length: 135mm.