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Lawrenceburg Fair and Horse Show: On the move

7/10/2013

By Lind Van Slyke

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Lawrenceburg is located in the famed Kentucky Bluegrass Region - about 22 miles west of Lexington. 

For those who are wondering why the grass is deemed bluer on that side of the horse fence - it's because of the blue seed heads of the Poa species that grows there.  This hardy type of mostly- green grass (which doesn't develop blue seed heads until "allowed to grow to its natural height of two to three feet") is the one often used on golf courses and sports fields throughout the United States.  However, it is most famous for providing the gourmet grazing that Kentucky thoroughbreds need.

Wikipedia reports that the regional Poa grass formerly fed large herds of bison, as well.  After those herds became virtually extinct, numerous horse farms began flourishing.  That is because the high calcium content within the "underlying fossiliferous limestone, dolostone, and shale" of the Kentucky Bluegrass soil makes horses from this region especially durable.

Horse racing therefore became one of the region's most popular attractions.  Who hasn't heard of the Kentucky Derby (aka "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" and "The Run for the Roses") in nearby Louisville?  However, Kip Halvorson of the Lawrenceburg Fair and Horse Show tells us that theirs "was probably the top horse show in the state for many many years."

This great Lawrenceburg County tradition began 141 years ago.  For the past 80 years, the Fair and Horse Show has been run by American Legion Post 34.  The website states that it is "the main annual fund raising event that enables the Lawrenceburg post to carry out its mission of service to our veterans and the community."

Fair and Horse Show Manager Kip Halvorson explained that these funds help to provide scholarships "to veterans, their children or grandchildren.  If a veteran is in need - perhaps  food or a hotel room for the night - we can help.  We also help the rest of the community - families that have maybe lost a home in a fire, ball teams, just all kinds of things.  We're one  of the biggest supporters of the community."

Because of the strong equine history of the region, Halvorson would like to keep the Horse Show component going strong.  Nevertheless, he is concerned about what he describes as "declining participation."   He referred to a time about "30, 40, 50 years ago" when the grandstand - which could hold up to 1100 spectators - was filled with Horse Show fans.  These days there is far less interest, which ultimately means far less sustainability.

This worries Halvorson.  He stated, "It truly is a shame - but unfortunately, the dollars drive the train...  We've gone from a five-night Horse Show to a four-night one, and replaced it with motor-sports events that are bringing many more spectators in."  This trend really isn't surprising; after all, the world at large seems to be moving on from a fascination with transport animals to a fascination with motorized vehicles...

And what a fascination the latter has become (as the popular term "motorhead" implies)!  Halvorson reported that the ATV Drag Race, for example, "went over absolutely excellent.  It brought in a lot of spectators, so that went great."  He also explained that the Mud Run, another popular crowd-pleaser, suffered a bit this year because it went up against a Nascar Race that was being held that same weekend.  Motor vs. Motor - that's a tough choice for any fan to make...

The Pageants were another popular venue.  Halvorson stated that "every one of those went very well" - so well, in fact, that the fair administrators are looking at opening them up "to anybody in the state" rather than to county residents only.  Halvorson pointed out that with a greater number of Pageant participants there would be a correspondingly greater number of spectators (families, friends, and others) to cheer them on.

Chainsaw CarvingHalvorson went on to describe a unique venue, Dennis Beach's Chain Saw Carving, as another great success this year.   He explained that the cost of hiring Beach was $2,000 for a two-night commitment.  At first, "we were just looking to get our expense back and provide a good show for the fair."  However, when the 12 pieces which Beach made during that time were auctioned off, they yielded a total of $3,600.  Halvorson concluded, "So it was actually great!"

General attendance at this year's fair "was about 450 down from last year."  Halvorson explained, "We didn't have really good weather this year.  The rain got us really bad one night.  We didn't have those issues in the past year." 

The admission cost had been raised in 2013 to $10 per person.  This was $2 more than last year's $8 admission fee, but Halvorson does not think that fairgoers were discouraged by this.  He said that the fair board was initially "concerned about how it would go over," but there  turned out to be "no major complaints at all."

Regarding advertising, Halvorson reported that "we pretty much did our standard local radio station and newspaper as we do every year, plus a website."  Because the website has been a helpful marketing tool, the board is also considering a Facebook page.  The advertising budget was categorized as follows:  $296 for radio broadcasts, $802 for road signage, $438 for the website fee, and $2979 for a Fair and Horse Show book.

The Midway was provided by Casey's Rides, a "homegrown" Bluegrass Region company.  All rides were free with the 2013 paid admission ticket and hand stamp.  Halvorson stated, "We've worked with them for the last six years.  At our fair their revenue was up.  It was a good week for them."

In fact, it was a good week for the many who once again enjoyed these great Lawrence County traditions.  Whether on horseback or atop some spinning wheels, the overall view has always been intriguing.  History marches forward and life moves at a faster pace, but the Fair and Show live on to reflect it all.  

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