Normally I'm not one to mix business and pleasure. But when it comes to a good old-fashioned fair, who can help it?
When the Eau Claire County Junior Fair rolled around in late July, I found myself without a babysitter, needing a story, and staring into the big chocolate brown eyes of my one-year-old son, Blake. No one can deny that charmer's doe-eyed pleading. It's almost as if he knew I was headed somewhere wonderful, somewhere the likes of which he'd never been before. With a sigh, I heaved the stroller into my car trunk.
As soon as we rolled onto the fairground, I found my quarry. Horseback riders galloped across the sandy paddock, their fingers deftly clutching their pistols as they popped balloon after balloon and raced back to the gate. Blake sat in his stroller, mesmerized, intently taking in the flying fringes on the racers' chaps and the smoke left in the guns' wake.
Drawn to the mounted shooting competition action in the arena, he was quiet and cooperative as I interviewed a family who competes in the action-packed sport together, including three youngsters barely knee-high to a grasshopper.
We rounded the arena, pausing to listen as a jolly-looking bearded gentleman (his resemblance to Santa Claus didn't go unnoticed) sat astride his horse, explaining the sport to a passerby. I listened as he spoke of the mounted shooting community's willing and helpful nature. Veteran riders will often share horses and guns with beginners and are more than willing to offer tips, he said.
Glancing our way, the rider tipped his hat, taking in Blake's fascination with him and the speckled gray horse that stood mere feet away. “Looks like he's ready to saddle up and try it,” the man said with a chuckle.
Indeed, it did. Blake was desperately stretching his fingers skyward, a hopeless attempt to pet the beast.
“Here, pass him up,” the cowboy said.
Oh, I don't think so, my motherly instincts said. But then again, what harm could cowboy St. Nick really do?
To Blake's delight, I heaved him up in the saddle, where he sat grinning from ear to ear, carefully grasping the saddle horn.
I think the picture goes to tell, this year's fair is going to be hard to top. And Dad, I think you'll be buying your little boy a pony soon. Maybe even a toy pistol or two, too.
For more information about mounted shooting in Wisconsin, visit www.mountedjustice.com.