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Despite bouts of rain, Jefferson County Fair sees strong attendance

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WATERTOWN — Dragon, a 12-year-old Friesian horse from the Netherlands, kicked off an equestrian performance Sunday afternoon at the Jefferson County Fair by standing on top of a pedestal and lifting up a front leg to salute an audience of about 50 spectators.

The “Horses, Horses, Horses” show hosted by equestrian extraordinaire Lisa A. Dufresne, based in Sarasota, Fla., was one of the highlights of the 197th annual fair, which ran from Tuesday through Sunday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. Along with a plethora of rides and carnival food, new to this year’s fair was an interactive show featuring exotic birds by master falconer Rick West of Adams. “Mr. Sticky Buns,” a popular carnival vendor that sold an assortment of homemade buns, rolls and other pastries, also made its debut.

Overall attendance at the fair, hampered by stormy weather Tuesday night and all day Sunday, is expected to be down from last year’s 49,943 people, Fair President Robert D. Simpson said on Sunday afternoon. A total of 46,877 people attended from Tuesday through Saturday, he said.

“We had 4,200 people here on Sunday last year, but I don’t think we’re going to get that many today because of the weather,” he said. “But it was pretty good until today, and we had three good days from Wednesday through Friday.”

In spite of incoming storm clouds and strong winds Sunday, Ms. Dufresne’s 3 p.m. equestrian show went on as planned. The performer brought along a caravan of 12 horses, including nine miniature stallions, to host performances every day of the fair.

During Sunday’s performance, a group of six miniature stallions were featured in a “liberty routine,” in which they raced around a circular ring formed by a large inflatable tube. Ms. Dufresne, who stood in the center of the circle with a horse whip to guide the horses, introduced each stallion by name for the audience, describing their unique personalities and penchant for roughhousing.

Light rain began to fall as the horses ran in unison around the tight circle, their manes bouncing as they jumped in and out of the ring’s boundary to the crowd’s delight. Festive music played over loudspeakers as the horses ran at a frantic pace. Following the act, one of the stallion’s named Pipsqueak performed a full pirouette on his hind legs, yielding applause from the audience.

After traveling to fairs and special events this summer across the South and Northeast, Ms. Dufresne said she enjoyed her debut at the Jefferson County Fair, which has the honor of being the longest consecutively running county fair in the country.

“After the storm on Tuesday, the shows were packed for the rest of the week,” said the 55-year-old, who has been touring with her show at fairs across the country for 12 years. “People here have said they’ve never seen horses so well-trained before.”

Mr. Simpson said that he convinced Ms. Dufresne to attend the fair in January during the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs annual convention in Rochester. He said attempts had been made for years to book her. “It worked out well because we booked her directly, rather than with a talent agent,” he said. “We also chose Rick West, because he has a good act that has been very well-received. And the price was good, because he lives in Adams and we don’t have to pay for” lodging expenses.

Not to be deterred by the rain, crowds arrived at the fairgrounds at 3 p.m. Sunday to watch a demolition derby at the fairgrounds’ sport center. A wrestling tournament was hosted at 5 p.m. at the exhibition hall, featuring wrestlers from the independent “2CW” wrestling league.

Traveling to the fair from Utica to watch the wrestling tournament were Kristopher J. and Wendy M. Korzec and their 7-year-old daughter, Karissa J. The family sat at a table underneath a large tent, sheltered from the wind, to enjoy their favorite carnival food before the tournament. Mr. Korzec, who was feasting on parmesan pierogies, said that his family personally knows wrestlers in the 2CW league and attends tournaments across the state.

“Who wants to watch cars bump into each other in the derby when you can see people do it?” he joked. “The wrestlers all come out to talk to us afterward and sign autographs.”

A carnival worker standing near the family, Joseph M. Nicholas of Buffalo, tightly gripped one of the tent’s steel poles to stabilize it as a strong wind gust passed.

“It’s not as bad as it was Tuesday night,” he said.

Tuesday’s Fireman’s Parade at 7 p.m. was delayed due to the storm. As a result, the number of parade units and spectators dwindled by the time it was launched at 8 p.m., he said. “It ended up being a small turnout,” Mr. Nicholas said. “The crowds were better for the rest of the week, except for today. The rain made today a disaster.”

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