, Salem, MA

October 4, 2013

Clydesdales, broncos and cows, oh my!

Demonstrations, shows offer lots of ways to enjoy the fair's animals

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — The 195th Topsfield Fair is just getting started, and here’s a close look at three more events that visitors might enjoy.

Clydesdales can’t fly, but they do have feathers.

Those are the long white hairs that grow below their knees and flare over their hooves, like spats or bell bottoms.

“It’s genetic,” said Dennis Barry, owner of the Hallamore Clydesdales, which will appear in the arena each day at 1:30 p.m. from Oct. 7 to 14. “That’s one of their characteristics. Some have much nicer feathers than others.”

Barry, who owns the Hallamore Corporation in Lakeville, has owned Clydesdales since 1973, when he bought his first two.

He now owns 16 Scottish Clydesdales — there are also French, Belgian and English breeds — which will appear at the fair in teams of eight.

The horses are driven by Ned Niemiec, and they will be pulling a wagon built more than 100 years ago by the Studebaker Company.

“He’ll do a drive in the arena with them, and then he’ll do some nice demonstrations,” Barry said. “It’s quite a thing, with eight of them, to make them do what he wants them to do.

“There’s a figure eight, and he’ll dock them, and he’ll fan them in 360 degrees, the whole eight of them. The people love it.”

Docking is a complex series of moves similar to adjusting a car’s position in a parking space. In a fan, the whole team moves in a sideways, sweeping motion.

“Very few people can drive an eight-horse hitch,” Barry said. “I can’t drive them.”

Clydesdales are big, but Barry’s horses are big even for Clydesdales.

“If you looked in an encyclopedia, the average Clyde is 17 hands and 1,800 pounds,” he said. “The ones at the fair are 18 to 19 hands and weigh 2,200 pounds. The larger ones are hard to find.”

A hand is four inches, Barry said, which means his horses stand around 6 feet tall at their shoulders.

The Hallamore Corporation, which Barry’s family acquired from the Hallamores in 1956, used horses to deliver goods in Brockton in the late 19th century.

They are still in the business of “heavy hauling,” and though they use modern equipment now, Clydesdales remain a fitting symbol of the work they do.

But Barry has been bringing his Clydesdales to the Topsfield Fair for close to 25 years because he knows people admire them.

“There’s something about animals that people love,” he said.

The bulls and broncos in a rodeo, trying to toss riders off their backs, are in some ways the opposite of a disciplined team of Clydesdales.

But visitors to the Rawhide Rodeo, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the arena, should find them just as much fun to watch.

Organized by stock contractor Sam Swearingen, who is based in New York, the rodeo at the fair is a competition that features professional riders.

They will try to stay on a bucking bull or horse for eight seconds and are judged on how well they ride, Swearingen said.

“We’ll use around 20 bulls a day, and then four to five horses will buck a day, and there’ll be 10 barrel races,” he said.

Barrel racing is a competition for women, who are referred to as cowgirls, Swearingen said. They ride quarter horses and try to weave through a course in the fastest time.

About 35 rodeo riders, almost all from eastern states like New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, will compete for prize money.

Though rodeo riders typically come from the West, the sport is popular in the East, Swearingen said.

“We’ve got some very good competitors. One of our past champions was in the top 10 of the world,” he said.

The bulls and horses are bred for bucking and are also fitted with a flank strap that “enhances the kick,” Swearingen said.

“It goes around the flank area,” Swearingen said. “We’ll put that on while they’re in the chute.”

At the end of each ride, two rodeo clowns distract the animals while riders get to their feet and leave the arena.

“It’s an average-sized rodeo,” Swearingen said. “We usually go (to Topsfield) every other year. I’ve been doing it about five or six years now.”

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the animals, the cattle barn provides one of the best settings at the fair.

Visitors can admire different breeds, from Jerseys and Brown Swiss to Red Holsteins, and a “Cow of the Day” program provides educational information.

At different times throughout each day, children of all ages will be allowed to pet a calf in an observation corral, and milking demonstrations will be held at a milking station.