HARRODSBURG — Mitch Clark will be here no matter what, and he hopes the Mercer County Fair & Horse Show will be as well.
Like many others who came to the opening night of the horse show Tuesday, Clark couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, where a schedule change this year has separated the horse show from the rest of the fair for the first time.
The move was made in large part with horse owners and trainers in mind, and Clark, a Danville-based trainer with a long personal and family history at the show, said he appreciates the effort by fair officials to make things better for them but also realizes that the show’s future is tied to the overall success of the fair.
“Horse-wise it’s a plus because it’s quieter, horses rest better, we’re able to hear the PA (announcements in the barns). It’s better to prep a horse,” Clark said. “I say that, but then I qualify that by saying I sympathize with the shareholders here. It’s difficult to keep this thing going. It’s expensive. They have to have gate receipts. I understand that.”
Those gate receipts have been enhanced in recent years by the addition of motorsports events such as truck pulls and demolition derbies. But the noise from those events has been a source of aggravation for horsemen using the barns closest to the motorsports track.
That isn’t a problem this year, however. The motorsports events, the carnival and other fair activities came and went last week, and the horses have the place to themselves for the first time in the fair’s 185-year history.
“This is an experiment. I don’t know if it’s going to work, they don’t know yet. But I will be here next year regardless and will completely support whatever decision that these people come up with,” Clark said.
Clark said he is supporting the show with two or three entries per night, the first of which was a winner. He won the open park pleasure class Tuesday with Knightly Sport, a horse making its first appearance in the show ring.
A grandson of legendary trainer Garland Bradshaw who now operates his own stable, Clark has a deep respect for the tradition of the Mercer show and the efforts fair officials have made to maintain it.
“I’ve been coming since I was 3 or 4 years old, and I sat here when I wasn’t even big enough to sit in the bullring. There’s a lot of history here, and this isn’t a complete summer unless you come here and support this particular facility,” he said.
Show manager Brad Noel said this decision to break from tradition was not made lightly.
“I’m as much of a traditionalist as anyone. I can remember walking around here when I was 5, 6, 7 years old, so it’s different to me. It’s a different feeling,” Noel said.
Desiree Clauson noticed the difference, too. Clauson is a trainer at Cardinal Farms in Bonnieville, which uses stalls right next to the motorsports track and has in past years as well.
“It was very difficult. It kind of unnerved our horses because of all of the noise. And it was so loud, also, that you couldn’t hear the announcements, so you really didn’t know what was going on in the ring ahead of you and when to be prepared to show,” she said.
Clauson also said, however, that she will miss the crowds if they prove to be smaller.
“That’s great for our clients, to be able to come and show in front of a crowd,” she said.
The crowd was small Tuesday, but still not far off a typical crowd for the first of the show’s five nights.
“I sort of know some of the locals and I went around to look at some of those seats. There’s several locals out tonight. that’s good, too. It’s going to get a lot better Friday and Saturday, and I think the entries will be up, too,” Noel said.
Noel said his goal is typically to have about 500 entries during the show, and he said this year’s show is on pace for that with 86 entries Tuesday.
Among them was Knightly Sport, a horse that Clark said seemed to enjoy the Mercer ring as much as he does.
“This was his first trailer ride today, and his first horse show,” Clark said. “He exceeded our expectations. We had brought him over here earlier this morning to let him see everything. He responded, and everything hit him well, so it’s clear he likes the Mercer County Fair.”