He’s the Shaquille O’Neal of horses. No . . . bigger. Weighing 3,030 pounds and standing 19.5 hands high (6 feet 6 at the withers), Hercules the Giant Horse is the Yao Ming of the county fair circuit. But he doesn’t dunk or rebound; Hercules patiently stands in a makeshift barn that’s barely big enough to contain him. He blinks his massive eyelids as he calmly receives a steady stream of visitors. Parents pry their children off the railing, teenagers gawk and everyone pulls out a camera. It might be best to break out the wide-angle lens to snap a full-body shot.
You don’t need to be a 4H member to appreciate Hercules. It’s like watching the Olympics, in which it’s a joy to see anyone (or anything) who’s the best (or at least the biggest) in a class. Fortunately, Hercules comes around more than once every four years; until Aug. 3, you can visit him (for an extra $1) at the Orange County Fair.
It’s county fair season once again, when established musical acts (Fergie, Seal) and largely forgotten ones (the Scorpions) augment their revenue stream, while the rest of us gorge on deep-fried food on a stick. Booths with “games of skill” (read: chance) hold out the tantalizing possibility of winning an oversized stuffed animal. The midway offers rides that run from mild to guaranteed to make you queasy. But even for thoroughly urban Angelenos, the fair’s nostalgic appeal can be hard to resist.
The livestock pens are about as close as you can get to that Norman Rockwell image of innocence. In addition to the usual assortment of cattle, oxen, sheep, rabbits and goats, the O.C. Fair also has miniature horses, alpacas, llamas, wallabies, zebras, a Tibetan yak and a water buffalo. The most popular animal event is the pig race, though: The stands are packed with cheering spectators, and it’s easy to get carried away cheering for the hoofers.
And why not? Sure, autumn looms on the horizon. But for now it’s fair weather.
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A round-up of your local county fairs
Orange County Fair
Where: 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Noon to midnight Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Ends Sunday.
Price: $9 general, $7 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6-12, free for children 5 and younger
Info: (714) 740-2000; www.ocfair.com
Highlights: Tom Jones, Pat Benatar, Emmylou Harris, Fergie, Paramore
Ventura County Fair
Where: 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura
When: Through Aug. 10.
Price: $9 general, $6 children 6-12 and adults 62 and older; free for children 5 and younger and adults 100 and older
Info: (805) 648-3376; www.venturacountyfair.org
Highlights: Sara Evans, the Beach Boys, Raven-Symone, the Plain White T’s
Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival
Where: 2551 W. Ave. H, Lancaster
When: Aug. 22 to Sept. 1
Price: $8 general, $5 children 6-11 and seniors 62 and older, free for children younger than 6 and active military with I.D.
Info: (661) 948-6060; www.avfair.com
Highlights: Fergie, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Poison and Sebastian Bach
Los Angeles County Fair
Where: 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona
When: Sept. 5-28
Price: $9 to $17, free for children 5 and younger
Info: (909) 623-3111; www.lacountyfair.com
Highlights: Smokey Robinson, Jaguares, Jessica Simpson, Gavin Rossdale, Sugarland
Kern County Fair
Where: 1142 S. P St., Bakersfield
When: Sept. 17-28
Price: $8 adults; $3 children 6-12; free for children 5 and younger
Info: (661) 833-4934; www.kerncountyfair.com
Highlights: The Bangles, Boyz II Men, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Tower of Power, Mark Chesnutt, Banda Tierra del Sol