For some, rodeo at Adams Agricultural Fair seen as a horse of a different color
ADAMS — Every summer, hundreds of Berkshire County residents flock to the Adams Agricultural Fair, a staple event in town that celebrates the county's roots in farming with livestock shows, music and food.
But for the past two years, the fair's decision to host a professional rodeo has been met with mixed reactions from animal advocates and fair spectators.
"We knew they were going to be here," fair director Betty Randall said about a group of protesters who opposed the rodeo Saturday. "I don't think most of us pay much attention to them."
At the fairgrounds, a crowd of people, many donning cowboy hats or boots, gathered in sets of bleachers outside a metal pen to watch professional cowboys and cowgirls of the Double M Rodeo compete in bronc and bull riding, barrel racing and team roping. They held their hands to their chest during the national anthem, bowed their heads during an opening prayer and watched intently when cowboys worked to stay mounted on their bucking horses.
Outside the entrance, standing along Route 8, were about 20 protesters upset with the animal exhibition.
Group members carried signs that condemned rodeos for, what they said, was abuse of animals for entertainment. To get the livestock to buck, riders have to trigger them with fear and pain, protester Terry Carlo claimed.
Their concerns were about the sport in general, and organizers weren't familiar with the practices of Double M Rodeo specifically.
"We all realize animals are our fellow partners with us on the planet," protester Matt Kelly said. "It's not a good example to abuse our fellow creatures."
"It's just extremely barbaric, archaic and sadistic," Carlo said. "They're popular down south and out west, but in New England, they're not welcome."
Randall said she believes the rodeo animals at the fair are well cared for. The event was such a hit among guests last year that she received calls from guests who wanted the fair to host it again, she said.
While Randall didn't yet have numbers on attendance Saturday, she said she believed attendance was up from last year, when the event took place in rain and mud. She didn't believe that the protest, which concluded in the early afternoon, affected anyone who attended. If anything, their presence served as "advertising" for the event, she said.
"They put on a good show," she said.
Katie Law, of North Adams, attended Saturday's event as a food truck vendor, but she took a break to watch the rodeo. The 31-year-old, who grew up with horses and had family friends on the rodeo circuit, said she understands that those who protest the show are coming from a good place but might not be educated on what goes on behind the scenes.
The competitors she knows love and care for their animals. She believes they are disheartened when protesters allege otherwise.
"A lot of them sleep in their trailers with the horses, making sure they're cool and fed and safe," Law said of competitors in rodeos. "These animals are their lifeblood."
Outside the show, visitors shopped for crafts, ate fair food and visited livestock that were competing for prizes.
Amber Parisi sat under a pavilion with her 4- and 6-year-old daughters, who were singing along with Berkshire children's band Terry a la Berry and Friends.
Parisi, of Lenox, said she has been coming to the fair for at least four years.
Typically, the fair hosts several amusement rides. This weekend, though, the rides had to be canceled because Belanger Bros. Show, which runs the operation, was awaiting an updated license from the state, Randall said.
"They're popular," she said. "It's too bad, but it happens."
Parisi said she didn't even notice the missing rides. Her girls, Violet and Lena, are more interested in seeing the farmers and their animals.
"It's not what we come for," she said of the rides.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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