66th annual Howard County Fair to mix the old with the new

Are you planning to attend the 66th annual Howard County Fair Aug. 6-13? When I was a kid growing up in western Howard County, almost everyone looked forward to the fair. For kids it was a time to see old friends that we hadn't seen for two months. (The county fair use to be a week later in August.) Of course, the rides and the food were also a big attraction.

As I got older, I enjoyed seeing all the exhibits (sewing, bake goods, and crafts) that were on display. When my children were young, we'd walk through the animal barns and they would beg to pet the variety of animals.

While you can still see those same projects on display today that you could view over the past 40 years, there are some newer events that might interest you.

This is the second year for the dog rally. After last year's inaugural event, it was decided to continue the contest. There were already quite a few dog competitions at the fair. There's the fitting and showing competition. This is the type of dog show which is often aired on television. The handler walks and runs the dog around a show ring, demonstrating how that particular dog is the ideal body type of that breed. There's the obedience dog show in which the dog must demonstrate that he can sit, lay down, or stay until called (sometimes for three minutes). A few years ago, agility was added. In this competition, the dog must go through or over a number of obstacles, following the vocal commands of their handler.

Like the agility contest, the dog rally consists of a number of stations. Like obedience, the dog must follow vocal commands. Unlike obedience, the handlers are allowed to talk to their dogs or clap their hands. At each station is a cone with a sign indicating what exercise must be completed. Each contestant must complete 12 exercises. Examples of exercises include: sit and stay, fast or slow walk, weave around cones, circle, step back and call your dog back. When a dog graduates to the advance level, he must complete jumps and even walk past food bowls without eating the tempting food. All advanced level exercises are performed off lead. Now that's real obedience!

Donna McGraw is the chairwoman of the event this year. "The kids have a lot of fun. It's more relaxed than the obedience competition. The kids are encouraged to interact with their dogs as long as they don't touch their dog," she said.

If you'd like to witness this contest, it is scheduled for Aug. 12 at 8:30 a.m. in the area outside the main gate.

Robotics is another new event. The project was added to the 4-H program last year. This year, you can see what the kids have learned over the past year Aug. 8 at 5 p.m. At this competition, competitors bring a robot constructed of Legos that they have programmed themselves. The robots must leave the start square, complete a challenge and return to start within five minutes. Participants are allowed two tries to complete the challenge.

Whether you're interested in the traditional exhibits or the newer competitions or you just want to go for the rides, plan to attend the county fair. Remember that because of judging, the building housing the crafts, sewing, baked goods and fine arts is closed most of opening day. So if you want to see the indoor displays, it might be better to wait until the second day to attend the fair.

Hope to see you there!

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