NORTH VERNON — It was a dream for children who now have children of their own.
That’s how Jennings County 4-H Horse and Pony Club leader Vickie Gay describes the horse barn being erected east of the cattle barn at the Jennings County Fairgrounds, off State Road 3 in North Vernon.
After more than 20 years of fundraising, a ground-breaking on June 13 commenced the long-awaited construction. The club will have its own place when the fair opens July 15, club member Kylan Higgs said.
Perhaps nobody is looking forward to the barn more than Higgs. The 17-year-old has been associated with the club since she was 4.
“I feel pretty lucky I get to use it before I have to leave the club a year from now,” Higgs said. “That little arena in the back where they had us provided no cover from the heat and the rain. This will give us our own place to settle into, dry off or cool down.”
In previous years, both horses and club members were confined to an outdoor arena next to the grandstand, where they endured hot days and sudden rainstorms, Gay said. The animals often would be spooked by the noisy go-karts, tractors and other grandstand attractions.
There also was a danger to both the horses and the children, who had to use the same gate as the vehicles in the grandstand attractions. A separate gate is being built for club members this year.
Since the Jennings County Commissioners agreed last July to provide to the club the land for the barn, several in the community have questioned why it’s taken so long to build a home for the horses.
Day said the delay, which is not unique to Jennings County, comes from the fact that many farmers don’t consider horses and ponies livestock. As a result of that perception, several counties, including Bartholomew, had to wait years after the livestock barns went up before housing was provided for horses and ponies at fairgrounds, Gay said.
“What they may have not realized was that the community loves horses and ponies,” Gay said. “Every child who goes to the fair wants to see them.”
Despite the long delay, Gay said she and other club members feel nothing but gratitude for the generosity the entire Jennings County area has provided to their efforts during the many years of fundraising.
Higgs said club members are exceptionally eager for this year’s fair to arrive.
“Now, we’ll have a place to show off our club. A place where people can talk with us and interact. A place at the fairgrounds to call home,” she said.
Modest fundraising for a horse barn can be traced as far back as 1990. One year after a horse and pony club called JC Riders was formed in 2002, plans for the horse barn were finalized.
The club had raised $10,000 when a 2005 snowstorm caved in the roof of the Jennings County cattle barn, Gay said. To demonstrate they were part of the 4-H team, the horse and pony club donated $5,000 to rebuild the cattle barn, Gay said.
While the club didn’t expect to be paid back, the gesture turned out to be an excellent investment. Once the cattle barn was restored, many agricultural and 4-H organizations reciprocated by stepping up community efforts to help the Horse and Pony Club.
During the next seven years (2005-2012), the money available for the horse barn went from $5,000 to a total of $25,000.
That total doesn’t include recent donations by people like Wes Bradshaw, Gay said. The owner of Bradshaw Building Specialties has agreed to provide both materials and labor at cost. Two companies are donating labor and equipment to install electricity.
The first phase of construction will be completed in time for the six-day fair. That means only four walls and a roof will be up, Gay said. Mobile gates will be brought in to keep each horse separate from the others, Gay added.
The second phase is expected to cost about $12,000, Gay said. When that final phase is completed, the 100-foot-long, 63-foot-wide horse barn will have 30 stalls and a meeting room.
Further fundraising will have to be done before a timetable is set for the second phase, Gay said. But the club is optimistic they’ll grab both attention and financial support with a contest at this year’s fair.
Judges Jon Webster and Gary Smith and North Vernon Police Chief James Webster will receive votes in a “Kiss The Donkey” contest. The public will be asked to donate money for which one of those three officials they’d most like to see kiss the donkey.
Gay said she’ll make sure the animal is wearing plenty of lipstick when the “winner” of the smooch is chosen.
July events and fundraisers
The Jennings County 4-H Horse and Pony Club will conduct events and fundraisers throughout July.
Western horse show: 8 a.m. July 13 at Jennings County Fairgrounds, 4920 State Road 3 North, North Vernon.
Horse barn dedication: Noon July 13 at Jennings County Fairgrounds.
“Kiss The Donkey” contest: July 15 to 20 during the Jennings County Fair. Donation totals will determine whether Judge Jon Webster, Judge Gary Smith or North Vernon Police Chief James Webster will kiss a donkey with lipstick.
Contesting horse show: 6 p.m. July 17 at Jennings County Fairgrounds.
Livestock auction: 6 p.m. July 19 at Jennings County Fairgrounds. Items for sale during auction to benefit the Horse and Pony Club include an antique western saddle wall hanging and original framed horse prints.