79th annual Valencia County Fair

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The oldest fair in the county will close out the local “fair season” as youngsters prepare for the big show that is the New Mexico State Fair in September.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Karli Ridley, 12, left, and her brother, Bryce Ridley, 14, right, listen to show tips from their mother, Stella Ridley, not pictured, as they prepare to show their dairy heifers in the Valencia County Fair this week.

Getting underway today, the Valencia County Fair is the final chance for 4-H and FFA youth to qualify to compete in the state fair.

Danny Goodson, the Valencia County Fair Board vice president, said the 79th year of the county fair will be very much like previous years.

“We’re hoping people will come out and support the fair,” Goodson said. “It’s in its 79th year, still here and a tradition in the county.”

There is no entry fee for the fair, but the dances, food and commercial vendors do require cash.

The week-long fair gets underway with the mule and donkey show at 9 a.m., on Saturday, Aug. 18.

The show is free and a perennial favorite amongst locals. Goodson said there might even be some speed events for the donkeys and mules. Head to the horse arena on the east side of the fairgrounds to see who is fleetest of foot.

Livestock, such as dairy cows, meat goats, rabbits and swine, will be coming in throughout the week, with the first animal show — the dairy goats — at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

And if you are a canner, baker, sewer or otherwise disposed to the “indoor” arts, Goodson wanted to remind you that all indoor exhibits will be accepted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 18 and 19.

The second Saturday is when all the “good stuff” happens, Goodson said.

“There’s the parade. We’ll have the hay stacking contest and the chile cook off,” he said.

For the little ones, there will be a pet parade, fruit race, stick horse race and the Home Depot kids building tent. In the pet parade, live animals will be judged separately from the stuffed animals.

This year’s parade, sponsored by the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, has the theme of “Happy Birthday New Mexico,” said Chamber Executive Director Rhonna Espinoza.

“We had asked Susie Gabaldon, our local centurion, to be our parade marshal,” Espinoza said. “But sadly, last week she had a fall. She is recovering, but was a little hesitant about the parade.”

Espinoza said they decided to call upon a man who, while not a centurion, has proved himself a true friend to the history of the state. Dr. Richard Melzer has stepped up as the marshal for the parade.

“We are honoring him for his extensive work with New Mexico history, his excitement about it all and bringing us all into it,” Espinoza said. “This is going to be a great parade with a lot of wonderful entries. It’s probably the biggest we’ve had in a long, long time.”

The parade line up starts at the Belen Senior Center on South Main Street and goes all the way to the county fair grounds. Call the chamber for information at 864-8091.

Sunday rounds out the week with the horseshoe tournament, rodeo, horse show and junior livestock sale, Goodson said.

Something new this year are the dances — people young and old can kick up their heels both Friday and Saturday nights, from 7 to 11 p.m., Aug. 24 and 25. Entry is $5 per person but those 8 years old and younger can cut a rug for free.

“This is a great opportunity for people to come out and see what the youth of this county are doing and how they participate in different programs offered by 4-H and FFA,” Goodson said. “Folks can see what the people of the county are doing. There is some great art and paintings and all kinds of things the community has been up to.”

For 18 years, the Ridley children have been showing dairy heifers and cows from the Handley Dairy in Veguita.

Len and Stella Ridley saw their three oldest children succeed in the show ring, and Karli, 12, and Bryce, 14, are following right along in their footsteps.

“I guess the beat goes on,” said Stella, who is better known as Snookie.

When Karli and Bryce were both as young as 4, they were in the show ring holding the lead of an animal as part of a group showing cows.

“The nice thing about showing dairy cows is you have the chance to show a family line. You can show the daughter of a cow you or your brother showed,” Snookie said.

That isn’t always the case with beef cattle, which are often sold at the end of the fair season for beef.

In the spring, Bryce and Karli chose their calf to show at the fair. After a lively chase, the calf is caught and the two begin training them to a halter and lead, how to be led around a ring and how to “set” them for the judges.

Setting up a heifer versus a milking dairy cow is a subtle difference to the untrained observer.

Bryce said when setting up either cow, the back legs are offset from each other, while the front legs are even and square.

“With a heifer, you want the leg facing the judge to be back. And a dairy cow, you want that leg forward,” he said.

The leg set back on a heifer allows the judges to see her udder and evaluate her potential for milk production. In a dairy cow, that is already producing, Snookie says the leg pushes the udder forward, showing its fullness.

Judges also look for good “hooks and pins” on a cow, Bryce said. In cattle, the hook is the front-most outside curve of the pelvis, the pin is the rear point, just below and outside the tail.

“You want their back nice and straight and flat,” he said. “They should be nice and lean, with a long neck. You don’t want them to be fat, like a beef cow.”

While the two are learning to recognize good condition and conformation in a cow, they are also having fun.

“Showing helps with responsibility but that’s not really fun,” Bryce said. “With 4-H, you learn about people when you show animals — how to talk to them.”

Karli said her favorite part is getting time off school. Snookie adds that she is very good at and enjoys talking with younger children who come by wanting to pet her cow.

“I wish more kids showed dairy,” Snookie said. “It’s not so much about the competition but more the camaraderie. If you forgot a show halter, someone else would loan you one.

“But winning is nice,” Bryce said with a shrug.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.