10/07/11 — Giddy-up

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By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 7, 2011 1:46 PM

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Katlyn Bradford whispers to her mule, Maggie, before entering the show ring during the Open Pony, Mule and Draft Horse Show.

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Dan Lancaster helps his grandson, Sid Lancaster, get ready for the pony show at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair on Thursday evening. The fair, which has been blessed with good weather, continues today and Saturday.

Patty Cake didn't stir when Andrew Kelly relinquished the reins.

The pony held its ground when the boy started jumping on -- and kicking up -- the dirt around her hooves.

But the 3-year-old's mother, Amber, was not quite as forgiving.

She was not going to let the young handler off so easy.

"He's getting a talkin' to," said Maggie Brentley, one of the dozens who showed up to take in the Open Pony, Mule and Horse shows Thursday evening at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. "But what can you do? I mean, look at him in that red cowboy hat. You just want to eat him up."

Even so, there was still a competition at hand.

So Amber told Andrew to quit fidgeting -- to look at judge Rusty Castleberry as he made his way toward the boy's mare.

And she continued to coach him until Patty Cake was out of the ring.

But as soon as his pony was out of sight, the 3-year-old went back to being a kid -- dancing and galloping around; pointing to the bright skyline the midway had brought with it.

"I want to ride the rides," Andrew said, again kicking up dirt with his cowboy boots. "Daddy, look at that one. That's movin'."

There were other handlers with their eyes on something other than a ribbon, too.

Noah Conder, for a moment, got distracted by the sights and sounds unfolding just beyond the ring.

But thanks to his mother, Ashley, the 5-year-old regained his poise.

He did his best to maintain eye contact with Castleberry as he took a long look at the boy's gelding pony, Tucker -- even peering around the animal's head when it blocked the judge from his view.

And listening to his mother paid off.

The boy earned a fourth-place ribbon -- and accepted it with a smile.

But children were not the only ones who stepped into the ring Thursday night.

Hope Lucas, a veterinarian from Wilson, showed up, too, alongside her mule, 11-year-old Texas Pete.

"I just thought he was awesome," she said, looking over at the animal she has now shown for three years at the Wayne fair. "I guess I thought I'd see if anyone else thought he was awesome, too."

She got her answer Thursday.

Texas Pete was named the event's champion.

"He's gorgeous," said Buddy Holeman, who came to the fair for the food but was drawn, by his love of animals, ringside. "Never thought I'd say that about a mule."

The horses in attendance got similar reviews.

Most handlers had at least one person ask to pet their animal at some point during the night.

"They are just so kind," said Molly Henson, who brought her daughter, Samantha, to the fair Thursday to get her more acquainted with types of horses she hopes the 7-year-old will start learning how to ride soon. "I grew up with horses and, with people, they just seem to connect somehow."

Some, though, didn't quite connect with their handlers in the way they would have liked.

Sarah Gibson couldn't get Ranger to face the right way.

And when the 11-year-old was called to the center of the ring, her horse let out a loud "Neigh."

"I don't think he's in the mood to be judged tonight," said Michael Helton, who has been participating in horse shows for nearly a decade. "He's letting that little girl and everyone else know it, too.

"But you know, that's the beauty of these things. Kids need to learn that you can only push an animal so far -- that you have to respect that they are creatures just like we are. Learning how to work with that animal without getting all out of sorts -- and without mistreating them -- that's the unspoken prize out here. If she learns that tonight, she'll be just like me. Ribbon or not, she'll love horses the rest of her life."