GREENFIELD — Braylynn Doerflein stood on the saddle of her glittering black-and-white quarter horse and blew kisses at the crowd.
A significant cheering section clapped and shouted encouragement to the 3-year-old participant in the annual pet parade Saturday at the Hancock County 4-H Fair, where furry friends and their handlers worked the crowd gathered in the show arena in hopes of taking home top honors from a panel of judges.
Braylynn and her horse, Mr. Lacy, earned the grand champion award with Braylynn’s “Rodeo Queen” routine, in which she stood in the saddle and rode backward with a helping hand from her parents, David Doerflein and Emily Bryant.
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Atop Mr. Lacy was a comfortable spot for Braylynn, who first sat on a pony at 2 weeks old; she was riding horses with her parents by 2 months old, Bryant said.
Entrants in the pet parade can be toddlers up to second-graders, and animals include livestock like cows or pigs or companion animals like cats and dogs, said Debbie VanSickle, who helps organize the event.
Participants often dress themselves and their animals in a similar theme in hopes of earning bonus points from the judges, said Annie Grinstead, Hancock County Farm Bureau representative, who has organized the pet parade for about five years.
This year, the trio of judges shared two special aspects: not only were they all related, they all were former participants in the pet parade who knew the challenges of getting an animal to perform on cue. Kristen Eischen judged alongside her mother, Suzanne Eischen and her aunt, Dana Allen.
The judges look to see how well the child and animal work together in the ring; they also judge the creativity in their presentations, Suzanne Eischen said.
“Often, there’s a poem or a song that goes along as they walk,” she explained.
Jim Robinson signed up his son, Maeson Robinson, 5, to walk the pet parade with dachshund Sierra.
Maeson is too young for Mini 4-H, which starts in second grade, but he wanted to do something at this year’s fair, his father said.
The crowd cheered participants through their challenges in the show ring.
Addy Cooley, 5, caught a little stage fright and started to cry as she showed her dog, Lucy. Hugs from mom, Lori Cooley, helped her feel better after she exited the ring.
Reagan Foster, 5, and her dog, Grace, competed in matching superhero costumes. Grace got distracted by an interesting smell, but the duo made it to speak to the judges.
Braylynn was the last to exhibit her animal. She and her horse wore matching black-and-silver ensembles and a poem with the line, “one day, I’ll be the sweetheart of the rodeo” was read aloud as she circled the ring.
Braylynn’s smile was bright as she accepted her grand champion banner; she only grew upset when her dad tried to lead her horse out of the ring.
She had her first horse show a few weeks ago, mom Emily Bryant said, and had a meltdown when it was over because she wanted to go again.
Pet parade winners
Age 3 and under: Braylynn Doerflein with horse Mr. Lacy
Age 4 and 5: Lane Bassett with alpaca Cutie
Kindergarten through second grade: Zara Coe with rabbit Peter
Grand champion: Braylynn Doerflein with horse Mr. Lacy