Horses with hair extensions.
No, it's not the name of some new underground country band. It was high equine fashion at Saturday's 4-H horse show, the official opening event of the 2002 Douglas County Free Fair.
"We really doll 'em up these days," Jeanne Nottingham, superintendent of the 4-H horse project, said as her 8-year-old daughter, Paris, walked by on a horse whose lush, dark "tail" nearly brushed the arena floor.
The good grooming went beyond the animals. Their proud riders some as young as 7 years old sat high in their saddles, decked out in fancy long-sleeved shirts, belts with buckles the size of a hand, heavy pants and boots with shiny spurs.
Enormous fans and the shade of the arena roof helped ease the day's heat, but perspiration shone from the 4-H'ers stoic faces as they circled the arena, walking, jogging or loping their horses on command.
Not even scorching weather could wilt the enthusiasm of the 450 Douglas County 4-Hers who will exhibit in this year's fair.
"They're very excited," said Trudy Rice, Douglas County Extension director. "It's kind of the culmination of 12 months of work."
Fair-goers will be able to take a look at the fruits of the children's labor beginning at noon Wednesday, when the fairground buildings the 4-H'ers worked to set up on Saturday will open to the public. The fair will end Sunday, Aug. 4 a day later than previous years to accommodate those who work during the week.
The carnival rides, demolition derby and featured musical act events most non-4-H'ers associate with the fair also start Wednesday and run through Saturday.
Although the hustle and bustle hadn't begun yet on Saturday, a group of young cowpokes waiting between rounds of the horse show found a way to pass the time. Their hoops and hollers rose from amidst a small sea of horse trailers.
A few steps closer past horses tied to trees, chomping on hay a huddle of children in jeans and cowboy boots deftly swung lassos above their heads and pitched them toward the would-be neck of a steel steer welded together with pipe.
Meanwhile, back at the arena, 12-year-old Tessa Runer of the Palmyra 4-H Club sat atop her brown Arabian named Ceritos, waiting for the pole and barrel races to start.
It's hard work caring for a horse and practicing for the competition, Runer said, but it all pays off at the fair.
"I have fun," she said, patting Ceritos on the neck. "And he might do better every year."