The night before the Douglas County Free Fair horse show, 7-year-old Paris Nottingham dreamed she'd win the title grand champion.
The next day, she owned not only the title, but a trophy nearly her size.
"I was hoping that would happen," Paris said. "And it was with my favorite horse."
The Baldwin Elementary student was one of 50 horse show contestants Saturday to descend on the 4-H Fairgrounds. Hundreds of volunteers joined them to prepare the area for Monday's livestock and exhibit registration.
"So many people come," said Paris, who will be participating in table setting and the livestock auction. "And they love looking at the exhibits."
More than 300 students are participating in the fair and generate about 6,000 exhibits, said Cathy Brockhoff, extension agent for 4-H youth development. Several hundred community members are expected to attend between Monday and Saturday.
Exhibits will be critiqued Monday and Tuesday, and livestock will be judged throughout the week. Children will take down their exhibits Saturday afternoon and auction livestock that evening.
Most 4-H participants spend the entire year preparing for the annual fair. Baldwin Junior High student Braden Buckley, 12, said he was able to win a blue ribbon at the horse show by practicing.
"If it's not raining, I practice every day," he said while patting Sunny, his white quarter horse. "He's 20 years old but still going."
Eudora West Elementary School student Kaitlyn Werst, 11, waited Saturday morning to compete in her first 4-H horse show. She said she was a little nervous but hoped her practice would pay off.
"I practice a lot at Grandma's house a lot," she said, sitting beside her pony, Thunder.
The hard work is beneficial, Brockhoff said.
"4-H teaches life skills, for example, goal setting, following through, responsibility and vocational skills," she said. "It gives them a tremendous amount of confidence."
Maturity is noticeable in children who participate in fair projects, said Lawrence resident Eileen Dray.
Her eldest daughter, 21, used to compete in the horse show. Now her younger daughter, 9-year-old Amanda, is carrying on the family tradition.
"There is no better way to teach kids to be responsible than with a living, breathing animal," she said. "It makes you feel better about sending them off to college."
But the fair isn't all work and no play. Brockhoff said it's a fun excuse for the county community to unite.
"It's the end of the summer and kids are looking forward to seeing their friends," she said. "It's very social."