The horse show has long been the signature event of the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show — after all, it’s right there in the name — but this might be the first time the horses will have the stage to themselves.
No carnival lights, no truck pull, no demolition derby. Nothing at all, in fact, for the entire five-night run of the horse show.
Mercer fair officials have separated the horse show from the rest of the fair, creating what is essentially a two-week, two-part fair. So while most of the fair activities will be held this week, one week earlier than usual, the horse show will remain in its traditional spot on the calendar, beginning July 24.
“This is definitely something different for us,” horse show manager and fair board member Brad Noel said. “We as a board decided last year right after our other show that we needed to try something different.”
Noel said he thinks the move will come with pluses and minuses, but he said there should be a number of benefits for those who bring their horses to Harrodsburg and those who come to see them.
For starters, the horse show will not have to co-exist with events on the fair’s motorsports track such as truck and tractor pulls and the demolition derby, which provide the fair with a good source of revenue but also create a noisy environment for the horses stabled in barns that are in close proximity to the track.
“It’s hard to have a horse show and motorsports going on at the same time, because they don’t mix very well,” Noel said.
Noel said there have been “some small complaints” from horsemen using the barns closest to the motorsports track since it opened.
“A big truck will go down the track and the horses in the barn get a little spooked,” he said.
But he said there have been no resulting incidents or injuries to horses that he is aware of, and he said while fair officials try to accommodate the horsemen as best they can, those complaints did not prompt the schedule change.
“This is definitely a trial run,” Noel said. “We still don’t know if it’s worked or not. We’re going to evaluate it (after the fair) to see if we want to go back to the other way.”
One thing was certain: It would have to be rest of the fair and not the horse show that moved to the earlier date. The horse show falls into a lineup of shows leading up to the World’s Championship Horse Show at the Kentucky State Fair next month, and there was no room to move.
“We couldn’t bother our horse show dates,” Noel said.
Noel makes the rounds of the summer horse show circuit promoting the Harrodsburg show, and he said he has already gotten some feedback from horseman about the change, though he expects to hear much more — both positive and negative — during the change.
“Word is sort of getting out. As I’m getting around, I’m hearing a few comments,” he said.
Noel said he believes entries in the show will be up based on inquiries he has already received and on what he has seen at shows such as Rock Creek, Shelbyville and Lawrenceburg and last week’s Lexington Junior League show.
“Every horse show is up on numbers this year. I don’t see why that won’t be the case for us as well,” he said.
Noel is hoping the numbers will be good in the grandstand as well. He said there should be less congestion within the fairgrounds during both fair weeks, and he said those attending the horse show will have better parking options, because they can park in the area being used for the carnival this week.
“It’ll be a lot more accessible for the horse people,” he said. “We’re still hoping to maintain a pretty good crowd for the horse show.”
Noel said the first week of the fair will feature a pay-one-price admission ($10) that wasn’t possible in the past, while admission for the horse show will be $5, with children age 6 and under admitted free. He said most of the fair’s food vendors have also indicated that they will stay for the extra week as well.
The advance schedule for the horse show features 112 classes and culminates July 28 with the five-gaited championship, won last year by Catamaran and rider-trainer Melinda Moore, a Harrodsburg native, for owner Laurel Nelson of Versailles.
The show begins at 7 p.m. nightly June 24-28, and the 18-class academy program begins at 9 a.m. June 28.