The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
State fair enticing equine enthusiasts
BY PORTSIA SMITH
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Calling all animal lovers! The new operators of the State Fair of Virginia are putting plans together for the 2012 season and want the horse and livestock community to be a big part of it.
Given the historic association between the fairgrounds at the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County and 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who was born there, fair organizers would like to put on a full slate of equine events.
And the state fair, which is scheduled for Sept. 28 to Oct. 7, wouldn’t be the state fair without a large showing of farm animals.
This will be the first fair to be held under the new partnership of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and Universal Fairs.
“We’re actively recruiting members of Virginia’s horse industry to join us during the fair,” said Greg Hicks, vice president of communications for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “This is an open invitation to all equine groups to let them know the fair is back on track, and we’d love to host their events, either during the state fair or at any other time.”
Hicks said the owners are working to schedule shows during this year’s fair that include draft-horse pull competitions, quarter horse competitions, as well as reining horse events. They are also in contact with the Virginia High School Rodeo Association, 4–H horse organizations and miniature-horse groups, he said.
“We’re trying to get the word out about this now, because we know it takes time for horse owners to plan and move their valuable animals to an event like the fair,” he said.
“We know from past state fairs how much the horse community loves this venue, and we’re looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship with Virginia horse lovers in the future.”
Leeanne Ladin, author of “Secretariat’s Meadow” and a close friend of 90-year-old Penny Chenery Tweedy, who bred and raced Secretariat, said she is in talks with fair officials about getting the Secretariat-themed tours up and running again.
She said it is important to continue to honor the famous horse’s legacy, especially with next year being the 40th anniversary of his Triple Crown win. She said she is also in early discussions with fair officials about planning a celebration for that historic event.
“I am very excited about their emphasis on the Secretariat legacy and bringing more equine events to The Meadow,” she said.
Ladin has a new book coming out this fall about Riva Ridge, another racing thoroughbred born at Meadow Farm. Riva Ridge won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, but missed the Triple Crown by placing fourth in the Preakness.
Since 2009, horse events at the state fair have been held at The Meadow Event Park’s Rouse Horse Complex, which includes the 140-stall, four-ring Southern States Legend Stable.
“Equine events and other livestock competitions have been the backbone of the youth scholarship programs connected with FFA and 4–H competitions in past state fairs,” Hicks said. “Farm Bureau is committed to continuing and growing these scholarship opportunities.”
Vicki O’Hara, who had been hosting the three-day Equine Extravaganza on the fairgrounds since 2010, said she had to move her event to the Richmond International Raceway because of the uncertainty of the property. The former owners filed bankruptcy in December; Universal Fairs bought the property and fair name in an auction in May.
“We needed to move forward, which is why we decided to move it back to the raceway,” she said. “That’s our plan for right now, but there’s possible consideration for synergy [with the state fair] down the road.”
LIVESTOCK AND MORE
The animal part of the state fair won’t be all about horsing around. While the junior livestock competition hosted by the state fair in the past is moving to the Rockingham County Fair this year, the state fair does plan to offer livestock exhibits.
The Dairy Cattle Birthing Center is one of those. It features a series of expectant dairy cows that will likely give birth during the fair’s 10-day run.
In addition, “We’ll have a beef exhibit, with about 10 cows all the time,” said Erin Henley, the fair’s newly appointed livestock manager. “Almost all of our livestock exhibits will be grouped in with the Young MacDonald’s Farm area, just east of the mansion and the agriculture pavilion.”
There are also plans for a rabbit and poultry tent in that area, which means visitors will be able to see many of the farm animals all in one place this year, Henley said.
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is also assisting in recruiting livestock exhibitors for the fair.
Many fairgoers don’t realize how much time and work go into competing in a livestock show or exhibiting large farm animals, said Henley, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech’s dairy science program. Her family operates a dairy farm in Goochland County.
“I did actually stay in the barns and sleep on straw beds for the weekends when I was competing in state fair livestock open shows while I was a student at Virginia Tech,” she said.
Henley said cows and other animals have to be transported in large and expensive vehicles. They have to be washed and groomed daily, and owners must ensure they get enough water and feed, she said.
“Most of the trailers probably hold about eight full-size cows, each of which can weigh between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds. So moving cattle is not a job for just a pickup truck or two, she said. “It takes a lot of time and dedication for farmers to bring their animals to shows.”
WANT TO TAKE PART?
The fair has set up an email address, email@example.com, to make it easier for horse owners and equine groups to contact the new fair management.
An online registration form is available at statefairva.org. Interested parties should contact the fair or fill out the online form by Aug. 9 to assist in creating a complete schedule of events.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419