PALMETTO -- Horses have it made at the Manatee County Fair.
Unlike steer and swine, they aren't sold by the pound at the close of the two-week fair.
The 98th Manatee County Fair survived its early cold days to finish Sunday's finale with a sizeable crowd enjoying the midway rides, fair food and horse show.
Fair Manager Dan West said final attendance figures would be available Monday.
Back to those lucky horses who remain with their 4-H Club handlers year after year.
"Horses stay with us," said Karen Ciemniecki, co-leader with Karen Neal of Hoof Prints in Sand 4-H Club.
Sunday's roster of horses sported proud equine names such as Chance, Strut, Roscoe, Stormy and Buddy, unlike the steers and cows with names likely to get them bullied in beef school -- such as Reba Smackintire, Gator Boy and Bounty Hunter.
The closeness of the 4-H handlers to their horses
was evident Sunday. For example, two club members stayed all Sunday at the 2014 Manatee County Horse Show even though their own horses were not even there.
Amanda Neal, 15, a Braden River High School freshman, and Fiona Hart, 13, a Dan Nolan seventh-grader, opened and closed gates, gave out ribbons, cleaned stalls and helped set up the arena from 10:30 a.m. until nearly 5 p.m. and did not compete at all, Ciemniecki said.
"They are dedicated," Ciemniecki said of the girls.
Amanda took herself out of the competition because she knows the judge.
"I felt it was a conflict of interest," Amanda said.
Fiona was not able to perform because her horse is lame.
"I never felt hurt or anything," Fiona said. "I was proud of everyone."
Amanda and Fiona have a goal to be large-animal veterinarians and are considering attending the University of Florida.
"Fiona loves horses," said her father, Dennis Hart. "I think volunteering all day is pretty easy for her."
Amanda and Fiona consider themselves horse-showing ambassadors. The girls said any boy or girl age 8 to 18 can show horses at the fair. For information call the Manatee County 4-H Club office at 941-722-4524.
An emerging star in Manatee County horse showing stated her case Sunday.
Alexia Parks, 10, of Freedom Elementary, scored three first-place blue ribbons in the junior division in barrels, poles and horsemanship, respectively.
Alexia scored her personal best of 26.859 seconds going around the three barrels with her horse, Chance.
"When I was riding barrels I just thought to myself, 'I better get this right,' " Alexia said.
Like most horse-show competitors, Alexia is 100 percent horses 100 percent of the time.
"She's got ribbons on her bedroom walls and horse bedspread and Breyer toy horses on her shelves," said Alexia's grandmother, Janet Parks. "We're very proud of her."
Alexia always has her best friend, Kayten Brinn, 9, in the stall next to her with her horse, Brooklyn.
"We do everything together," Alexia said, with a smile.
Another emerging star Sunday was Amanda Neal's sister, Lindsay Neal, 10, who won three ribbons with her horse, Stormy.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.