“You’re my first customer today,” says the woman in the ticket booth at the Norfolk County Fair. She was still figuring out how to print the ticket to get me into this annual fair and horse show in Simcoe, Ontario, about a two-hour drive from the New York State border.
“Has the jumping started?” I ask. It’s the reason I’m here in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada.
“The horses?” she says, “That started at 9am.” So, technically I’m late. First, but late. The actual fair doesn’t open until 11 am, which explains why I got a parking spot across the street.
It’s 9:30 am and the equine jumping event is just starting, and all is remarkably relaxed. There’s about eight courses scheduled, each with progressively higher jumps, culminating with the ‘modified Grand Prix’ event that actually sees winners get more than a new saddle pad and ribbon: two thousand dollars, in fact.
“Can we have the first rider into the ring,” the announcer says. “Anyone, Madison? Wayne? We have to get started and be out of here by 3 pm when the demolish derby comes in.”
They’re riding until 3 pm. That’s hours of jumping. Nonetheless for me, the first two and a half fly by – after I pick up some poutine for breakfast when the food vendors open.
Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show, October 3-9, 2017
The Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show, run by the Norfolk County Agricultural Society since 1840 (when it was the Talbot District Agricultural Society), is one of many fall country fairs in the Southern Ontario region.
This weekend Norfolk shares the spotlight with its larger rival The Rockton World’s Fair in Rockton, Ontario about an hour drive away. October 3 to 9, 2017, the first week of October (when Norfolk runs) and Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend (when Rockton runs) overlap this year, so I’ve got a long weekend of local riding competitions to watch and plenty of horses to photograph.
Thursday at the Norfolk Fair, it’s all about the jumping, with some heavy hitch, wagon and junior single-horse hitch driving competitions happening nearby. After 11 am, hordes of school kids flood into the fair to see the livestock, biggest pumpkin competition and poultry barn – including a new category: rainbow chickens.
Chickens aren’t born pink, yellow and blue. (I had to ask). Apparently, colouring white ones like Easter Eggs is the new thing. Regardless, I want a pink chicken.
165th Rockton World’s Fair, October 6-9, 2017
Days later, at the Rockton Worlds County Fair (that’s right, it’s been the ‘World’s Fair’ for over a century) I don’t see any pink chickens.
That’s because I don’t see any chickens. The Rockton Fair is one of the few dog-friendly fairs (unlike Norfolk), so I have my dog Victor with me (check out dogtrotting.net). That means no chicken barns for us and no cow barns either (see our previous adventure here).
However, I do spend hours watching the Hunter Jumping Competitions – the highlight of the Grand Stand entertainment all day on Saturday. The heights, some course turns, and overall skill level is impressive, though some of the rickety jumps need repair. Yes, there is a slight wind during the day (thankfully, because temperatures are summer high), but unanchored standards blowing over as riders approach is dangerous.
In a nearby ring, junior riders jump ponies over small courses. After which, the Miniature Horse Show and competition draws a crowd (of course) because who doesn’t love a big animal in smaller form?
Are there animals at the fair other than horses? Sure, I think so. Saturday is Beef Day, so you can look your hamburger in the eyes. There’s also a midway, plenty of deep-fried everything including the now mandatory poutine and even a trampoline show three times a day.
But nothing holds my attention like horses. Fortunately, there was shade for Victor under the Rockton Grand Stand seats where he happily waited for gravy cheese fries to drop from above. And I happily watched horses for hours and hours…