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VENTURA COUNTY FAIR : Flying U Rodeo the Star on Final Day : Festival: Bucking broncos and cowboys show off. Officials estimate a drop-off in attendance this year.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thirteen-year-old Mindy Garrison of Ventura loves horses, but she wanted no part ofthe bareback broncs she saw kicking and jumping Sunday at the Flying U Rodeo on the final day of the Ventura County Fair.

“I like horses, but these horses are pretty wild,” she said. “These are pretty bucking horses.”

Mindy’s little brother, Tom, was impressed with the cowboys’ skills.

“It’s interesting how (the riders) can stay on and not fall off,” the 10-year-old said, sitting between Mindy and their mother, Barbara.

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The Garrisons were three of more than 25,000 people who spent part of their Sunday at the Ventura County Fair, watching the professional rodeo, spinning on carnival rides or feasting on cotton candy, fresh corn or a host of other edibles.

Fair officials said attendance this year is down about 7% from last year. Through Saturday, the fair had drawn 223,187 people, down from the 239,907 who passed through turnstiles over the same number of days a year ago.

“It looks crowded to me today,” fair spokeswoman Teri Raley said Sunday. “And this was also the biggest day last year. But my guess is we can’t make up the difference.”

Raley said she could not cite any specific reason why fewer people were attending this year’s event.

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“Perhaps people aren’t coming back as many times as they did in the past,” she said. “I don’t know. We certainly can’t blame it on the weather.”

Vicki Bradley of Ventura said she brings her family to the fair every year. But this year, she waited until the final day to bring her 8-year-old son, Alex.

“It’s fun watching the rodeo,” she said. “It’s different, something we don’t get to see very often.”

Alex was too enthralled with the steer wrestling to answer any questions. He did say between events, however, that he would likely not become a rodeo cowboy when he gets older. “I wouldn’t ride ‘em,” he said.

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About 10 members of Animal Emancipation wished more adults held that opinion. The activists handed out literature protesting the rodeo to passersby streaming through the gates into the fairgrounds.

“During the events, many (of the animals’) necks are snapped, and legs are broken,” said Jan McClellan, a protester from West Hollywood. “We have footage of it on videotape.”

McClellan said researchers have found that as many as 40% of all rodeo animals are injured, killed or crippled during the shows. “They don’t even have veterinarians here,” she complained.

Outside the confines of the rodeo arena, thousands of people bustled from rides to food stands to vendors’ booths.

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“That’s not going to discolor, is it?” La Dawn Ames of Ventura asked an attendant at John’s Custom Jewelry as she inspected a 14-carat gold charm with a San Francisco 49ers logo.

Assured that it would not fade, Ames plunked down a credit card and added $55 to her balance.

“My son’s a 49ers’ fan and this is what he wanted,” she said. “It’ll make him happy. Besides, it’s cheaper than going to a jewelry store at the mall.”

Over at the midway, where rides with names like the Zipper, Gravitron and the Wave were spinning and rocking people in the sky, John and Tammy Pelton of Oxnard were making their way through the exit of the Force 10.

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The ride resembles a carousel, but moves people with a G-force equal to three times the earth’s gravity.

“I feel fine now, but this one’s real strong,” said Tammy Pelton, 20. “It hurt my neck a little.”

Nearby, her husband John was not so fortunate.

“I felt it pulling down on my kidneys,” he said. “I felt dizzy for a few minutes and I couldn’t find the exit.”

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