Horses, darts and big crowds make for grand finale of Manatee County Fair

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 27, 2013 

PALMETTO -- Horses, darts and nearly record-breaking attendance were the stories of the final day of the 2013 Manatee County Fair.

Duette's Jordan Olson, 13, a Buffalo Creek Middle School student, won Senior Horseman Sunday during the horse show, the final big event at the 10-day fair in Palmetto.

Lexi Parks, 9, of Bradenton, won Junior Horseman with her miniature horse, Freddy.

Jordan, who rides her Paint named Crush two to three hours each day, was coming off her Junior Horseman win in last year's fair.

"Jordan doesn't have time to be on the phone or at the mall," Jordan's mother, Joni Olson, said of her daughter. "She wants to ride."

Someday, Lexi wants to barrel race, but for now and until she is older, she leads Freddy around a ring.

On Sunday, the judges noticed that she changed Freddy's set-up from a faulty one to a correct one and awarded her a top prize.

"He can be a brat at times," Lexi said of Freddy, who nuzzled her face as if to admit she was right.

Jordan and Lexi earned their top awards through a combination of judging and showmanship, said Nancy Morris, horse show secretary.

Grand Champion Mare went to Tabetha Lex and Grand Champion Gelding was won by Amanda Neal.

While Jordan, Lexi, Tabetha and Amanda and 26 other 4-H Club and FFA competitors competed in the livestock arena, thousands of people were enjoying blue skies and short sleeve weather out on the midway and in the exhibit halls.

The 2013 Fair will finish with an attendance of between 155,000 and 160,000, second best in history, said Fair Manager Dan West.

"Last year we had great weather with people wearing shorts to the fair and set the record at 172,000," West said. "This year we had the same weather but fell short in attendance."

West thinks the dip in attendance may be due to the calendar, which produced one four-day weekend and one regular weekend during the fair as compared to last year when there were two three-day weekends.

"Many people told us it was one of the best fairs, especially with the entertainment on the ground," West added.

Performers Don Williams, Colt Ford and a pair of Christian artists all performed to packed houses, West said.

Over on the midway, dart-throwing ace Don Powers of Myakka City, playing the "Pop the Balloon Game," won a whole wagon filled with stuffed toys for his niece, Jeana-Marie Jason, 5, and nephew, Joseph Hills Jr. 6.

"I'm left-handed, lucky and I'm Irish," said Powers, when asked to speculate why he was the star of the midway Sunday.

Even Mike Sturgis, a 39-year carnival veteran working the balloon game for Belle City Amusements, couldn't help but smile at Powers' success.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @RichardDymond.

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