GREENFIELD — Standing on dusty ground near the horse arena, Abby Sparks brushed dirt off the back of her horse, Coco.

The Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds is where the 13-year-old shows off her skills among friends who feel like family.

A hometown crowd filled the bleachers at the arena Friday to watch 4-H’ers and their steeds ride in the annual horse and pony show, kicking off fair week.

The excitement was a welcome change from the last year’s event, when the twice-canceled contest was relocated to a covered facility in Henry County weeks after organizers gave up waiting for clear skies to hold the contest locally. Few 4-H’ers were able to make the 30-mile trek to participate in the 2015 show, held long after the local fair was over, and even fewer community members came out to cheer the youngsters on.

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The horse and pony show is prone to rescheduling, as rain often wrecks the uncovered outdoor arena where the event is held, turning its dirt floor to mud.

Each year, well-spirited groups come together to pull the show out of the muck, relocating or rescheduling the contest to ensure the 75 members of the Hancock County 4-H Horse and Pony Club have a chance to complete their projects, said Barb Pescitelli, the co-superintendent of the horse and pony club.

She’s thankful for the kindness and hospitality other organizations — like the Henry County Saddle Club, which hosted the 2015 event — have shown the 4-H’ers in the past. But she was delighted to have a local crowd of friends and family in the stands Friday to cheer on the participants.

“It’s so nice to be home,” she said.

As horse trailers rolled into the parking lot around him Friday before the show, Bill Diddelot of New Palestine worked to saddle-up his kids’ rides. His children joined the horse and pony club this year and were slated to compete in their first contest at Friday’s event.

Diddelot was filled with a nervous excitement — just like his children, he said.

“I got (the horses) here, so my job is done,” he said with a laugh.

For longtime 4-H families, the 2016 event felt a bit foreign when compared to rained-out and rescheduled contests of years past.

It was nice to be back at their home fairgrounds this year, on a day each club member has had marked on their calendar for weeks; but some parents felt a twinge of envy their kids aren’t guaranteed this 4-H experience every year, a perennial problem created by having an uncovered arena.

“There have been very few times the kids are able to show at the same time (as their fellow 4-H’ers),” said Julie McKinney, who has followed her kids, Morgan and Logan, to horse and pony club events for the last 15 years.

“It’s a real shame,” she said.

Relocating the 2015 horse and pony show rekindled a debate about the need for a new fairgrounds, complete with covered multipurpose arena that could be used for all livestock events.

The Henry County Saddle Club, which hosted the horse and pony show in 2015, touted such features, and had some 4-H’ers, like Gracie Wyatt, feeling envious.

Gracie participates in different riding contests around the state. However, 4-H is where she rides for fun. When the shows are broken up and rescheduled, it gives participants less time to be together, she said.

“It was frustrating, but we work with what we have,” Gracie said of last year’s contest. “But I’m very excited for tonight.”

Upcoming events

The Hancock County 4-H Fair kicks off today, with dozens of events throughout the coming week. Some of the highlights are:

Saturday

– 9 a.m. Baby contest, pioneer building

– 4 p.m. Carnival opens

– 5 p.m. Pet parade

– 6 p.m. 4-H BBQ contest, extension office parking lot

Sunday

– 8 a.m. Rabbit show, west arena

– 10:30 a.m. Worship service, pioneer building

– 2 p.m. 4-H Fair parade

– 5 p.m. Llama costume class, west arena

– 7 p.m. Tractor/truck pull, multipurpose arena

– 8 p.m. 4-H fashion revue, 4-H bowl

Monday

– 8 a.m. Swine show, show arena

– 8 a.m. Poultry show, west arena

– 10 a.m. Exhibit hall opens

– 6:30 p.m. Colts in Motion

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.