Homer the mule strolled out of his stall at a measured pace, in no hurry receive a black-and-yellow ribbon around his substantial neck.
At age 52, he has earned his retirement. As one of Maryland State Fair's most beloved mascots, he stepped out Saturday to be honored by scores of his assembled fans. He received pats on the face, and a few uninhibited visitors inspected his sizable ears.
"Homer is an ambassador for all mules. He never kicked. He's smart and wise enough never to overeat. He's a trustworthy mule," said Rick Fenlock, Homer's owner.
Homer acknowledged the attention with a mule's vocal salute.
"When he brays, it's like Old Faithful," said Fenlock, who described Homer's lung blasts as mightier than the horn on a passing light rail train.
He also explained that the aged Homer has gone deaf.
"His eyesight is good, and there's nothing wrong with his appetite," said Fenlock. "But never rush him. He takes his time."
Fenlock, 63, is a professional farrier who acquired the Baltimore County-born Homer when the mule was 6 years old. The next year, Fenlock brought him to the fair, where he developed a following of visitors who soon discovered you could easily approach the docile chestnut mule with the loud speaking voice. Over the years, Homer became the unassuming celebrity of the back barns, his admirers said.
Fenlock, who was born in Dundalk and now lives in Seven Valleys, Pa., got into the business of working with animals as a 15-year-old.
"I pedaled a bike to Cub Hill for $6 a day as a manure manipulator at a riding stable, Deer Head Farms," he said of the old Towson equestrian center on Hart Road.
"Since he was 2 years old, my brother wanted to be a cowboy," said his sister, Linda Fenlock-Aires, who also attended Homer's retirement party.
Fenlock took a sabbatical from the Maryland-Pennsylvania equestrian circles to learn his trade of shoeing horses in Oklahoma. He also does tooth floating — equestrian tooth trimming.
Homer's many fans dropped by throughout Saturday afternoon to congratulate him and pat him on the cheek. He seemed to appreciate the affection.
Fenlock said he thought it was prudent to announce the mule's retirement because Homer experienced a "rough winter."
And "retirement," he added, is a relative word.
"He could always come out of retirement," his owner said.
"Homer has been a staple at the fair for decades. He's very social," said one of his devotees, Syrena Irvin Robinson, who lives in North Baltimore. "At 52, he's extremely old and is most likely the oldest living mule in the Maryland-Pennsylvania area."
Homer holds his own as a state fair attraction, alongside the chick hatching incubator and the pork barbecue sandwich vendors.
Dorothy Snow of Roland Park said it wouldn't be a Maryland State Fair without Homer at his usual address, a dusty stall between the cow palace and the draft horse barns.
"I've been coming to visit Homer for 20-plus years," she said, as she stood with her 4-year-old grandson, Thomas Brennan, and his mother, Grace Snow.
"This year is my grandson's chance to meet him," Snow said.
Two fearless 5-year-old twins, Omeed and Kamran Tabrizchi, who will be students at the Calvert School this semester, stepped up to Homer's stall and fed him watermelon from their outstretched palms. Their younger brother, Naveed, observed from a distance.
It's not appropriate to say that Homer is being put out to pasture, Fenlock said. "He's there most of the time anyway."