After a two-year hiatus, the familiar clopping of hooves and banter among excited competitors returned to the Morgan Arena as the Ventura County Fair kicked off early in July with a youth horse show. The multiday event drew student equestrians from the county and beyond for classes, competitions and fun.
“There’s just something about horses that touches your soul in a different way,” said Taurie Banks, a world champion rider and trainer who has been running this show for five years.
For the first time in its decades-long history, the former 4-H show opened up to the entire community, including independent riders and competitors from other equestrian groups. Riders around 5 and up wore white collared shirts and jeans for the second day of the show, “Western” day. Ribbons and colorful paraphernalia from the stall-decorating competition embellished the rustic red barn doors. Kids in leather boots and belt buckles strolled around the stables or sat mounted on horseback, waiting for their turn to compete.
A judge dressed in a bright turquoise button-down shirt and stately white cowboy hat instructed and evaluated riders in the arena according to the Western style of riding.
“The kids are getting an experience of what a real horse show is like,” longtime volunteer Linda Wolf told the Guardian. “It’s not like a backyard show. … I mean, this is the real deal. Real judges. Certified, real judges. And that’s something to be proud of.”
Wolf has been the fair’s award superintendent for 17 years and takes pride in the quality of ribbons, plaques and other prizes given at the fair. Nearly a dozen were handed out that afternoon once scores were tallied. Big smiles and even bigger white-and-blue ribbons adorned the winners. Parents and trainers snapped photos while competitors hugged each other and admired their prizes.
Not long after the awards ceremony, the judge called for attention again.
“We did some math,” an announcer stated over the loudspeaker, beckoning over a young athlete, Sadie Hoffmaster, from Arabian Horse Riding Academy in Solvang. Hoffmaster had scored so high that no one could surpass her present lead. Event staff presented her with a large sliver plaque that read “OVERALL CHAMPION,” an award typically given on the last day of the show.
“I’m really excited,” Hoffmaster told the Guardian, beaming. She trains with Nedra Johnson, who rescues, rehabilitates and trains half- and full-Arabian horses. Johnson said kids like Hoffmaster come away from competitions with much more than just ribbons; they gain experience and responsibility.
“They are required to feed, clean stalls, get water for their horses, get them tacked up and in the arena on time. I love the sense of independence and increased confidence that this show experience provides,” she said. “We can’t wait until next year!”
Sue Fleczok, show secretary, began helping with the youth event in 1984. Her passion for riding is contagious — her granddaughter caught the bug when spending a summer with her, then passed it on to her own daughter.
“[She] rode here in her very first horse show,” Fleczok says of her great-granddaughter.
Banks, the director of this show, grew up in Fillmore and began riding professionally as a young adult. She recalls attending the 4-H horse show at the Ventura County fairgrounds when she was just 7 years old.
“To me, that was a big deal,” Banks says. “I’d only done a little teeny one in Moorpark, and then I got to come here and be a part of something that was really big. And that was it — I was hooked.”
Banks has built an impressive resume in both competition and training, and she desires to pass that on.
“I have a very soft spot for making sure these kids have that same experience because those memories are still really profound in my mind,” she said. “The show really does make an impact on these kids.”
“You’re planting seeds and watching the kids come back five years later, and you’re just shocked — they’ve grown, they’re excellent riders, it’s amazing,” she says. “They know what they’re doing, and they’re not scared anymore. That’s a big deal.”
More horse shows will take place at the fair, including barrel racing, trotting, showmanship and jumping. Horses will be stabled and available for viewing all week long.
Along with the horses, the fairgrounds will swell with temporary residents, including 24 steers, 32 goats, 63 lambs and 193 hogs, according to James Lockwood, public relations and marketing manager for the fair. Throughout the twelve days of events, 42 rabbits, nine chickens, three turkeys, nine cavies (guinea pigs), five pygmy goats, 14 market turkeys and two mini-pigs will spend a few days exhibiting. Educational and agricultural groups like 4-H, Grains, and FFA are among the largest contributors to the junior livestock auction, bringing varieties of goats, chickens, pigs, rabbits and more.
“The junior livestock auction is the main event of the fair,” Lockwood told the Guardian. “It is one of the agricultural features that has endured over the years, and now, in the 147th year of the Fair, the livestock auction returns on Friday, August 12. Fairgoers are all welcome to come to the auction and bid on these animals.”
Before they are auctioned off, Lockwood says anyone can “come visit the animals in the livestock area and meet the children who have spent a lot of time caring for these animals and learning the business of marketing their product.”
“The livestock department is our biggest department, and when they start moving in, it’s just unreal,” explains Wolf. “Those kids have worked all year to bring their cows or their pigs. It’s a way of life. You look forward to the county fair. We want to push that and keep it alive as long as we can.”
Family-friendly contests are sure to entertain, including a “build-a-chicken” contest, mini-pig trick contest, mini-pig costume contest and a rooster crowing and hen cackling contest.
The fair, open August 3-14, will also feature “entertainment exhibits of all kinds such as arts and crafts, home arts, agricultural projects, youth projects and much more,” says Lockwood. “Carnival rides are always a fair favorite, and you can watch the Channel Islands from the top of the Ferris wheel at the Ventura County Fair, ‘A Country Fair with Ocean Air.’”
The full schedule of events and details can be found at the venturacountyfair.org website.