Members of Colorado’s mounted precision and drill organization, the Westernaires, practice for a night show Thursday at the Sandoval County Fairgrounds in Cuba. Out of 800 members, 36 of the Westernaires’ best are participating in this year’s county fair.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

CUBA — Over 40 years ago, New Mexico ranchers would compete for a year’s worth of bragging rights at the Sandoval County Fair.

Now the ranchers’ grandchildren compete for those same bragging rights.

In 1969, the Sandoval County Fair was known as the Rio Puerco Basin Fair, where Leroy Lovato’s bull won first prize. His family was part of the founding families of the fair, and now he watches his grandchildren compete in the same events he once did.

“These kids are from different parts of the county, and they are friends for life,” Lovato said. “Now they’re married, they have kids and now their kids are showing and have friends for life.”

Originally ranchers would bring one bull, one yearling heifer and a cow-calf pair, and compete for best in show.

Sara Cook, 10, took first place with her rabbit Sparrow on Thursday at the 43rd Sandoval County Fair.
(Amy Byres/ Rio Rancho Observer)

For about 30 years, Lovato has been the auctioneer of animals nurtured by youth in the 4-H program. In the expansion of the fair, 4-H, a youth program teaching skills from agriculture to cooking, was expanded.

For the past 20 years, Paula Enyeart, the president of the fair board, has supported 4-H. Enyeart remembers the fair’s history through the kids she has worked with over the years.

She works with a lot of underprivileged and special-needs children, she said. She has watched children overcome their problems to win grand championships.

One of Enyeart’s favorite memories is of a kid who caused trouble and overcame that trouble by taking care of his own steer. He became a champion with his steer, earning a belt buckle.

“I think that’s what the fair is mostly about: taking these kids that have a lot of hurdles and problems and working with them and bringing out the best in them,” Enyeart said.

Now, many of the same kids she once worked with volunteer on the Sandoval County Fair Board. Lacey Bendzus, fair board secretary, is one of those kids.

Madison Ross, 11, cradles her 4-week-old goat Fibbles as her 13-year-old sister, Sophia Ross, stands nearby.
(Amy Byres/ Rio Rancho Observer)

About 20 years ago, she competed for top placings as a kid in the 4-H program —now she watches her teenage daughter carry on that legacy.

“This is exactly how it was when I was a kid: My best friends were in 4-H, we all worked hard, we shoveled poop together and all of these kids do the same thing. They work hard, they’re best friends and they all shovel poop together,” Bendzus said.

These life skills learned in 4-H are put to the test in every show at the fair. Taking care of animals is hours of work and all that work is displayed in each show, Bendzus said.

This year’s fair features animal shows, such as the rabbit, market lamb and replacement beef heifer shows, and rodeo events like barrel racing and the Westernaires. The Westernaires are a mounted precision drill organization composed of Denver youth performing trick riding, roman and dressage riding.

The Sandoval County Fair ends today and is at 37 Rodeo Road in Cuba.

Assistant Editor at Rio Rancho Observer