August 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
70°F
test

This old mare is a fixture at the fair

WELLINGTON — Richard Nixon was president and polyester leisure suits were all the rage when Flirt, a high-stepping Hackney pony, made her first appearance at the Lorain County Fair.She’s still going strong.

Flirt once again won top mare in the fine division for ponies, as the only entrant, according to John Barber, of Rochester, one of her owners.

CARL SULLENBERGER / CHRONICLE
She ain’t mugging! Flirt waits patiently as part-owner John Barber gives her a gentle brushing on Saturday.

At 37, Flirt may be the oldest animal exhibited, fair officials said.

A champion from the start — the Hackney pony won first place in the fine division for ponies at the Ohio State Fair    36 years ago — Flirt seems to enjoy fair week, according to her admirers.

“She’s just delightful,” said ticket taker Snow Wiech, “She’s a little long in the tooth and has a sway in her back, but she’s adorable.”

John Barber, 43, was just a little kid when his father, Melvin, brought the pretty pony for his mother, Sarah Jo Barber.

At the time, 5-year-old John was a little apprehensive of Flirt, who stood about 52 inches high.

She had one white foot, and anyone who tried to groom that white foot might get a swift kick, he said.

“When she was young, she was quite the ornery one,” he said.

His father, who once raised dozens of ponies and exhibited at five to seven fairs a year, died in 1974, and the family slowly cut down on the number of fairs they attended.

Now Flirt is the only show pony they have.

“A few years ago, we bought a replacement for her, but she outlasted the replacement,” John Barber said.

In human years, Flirt is the equivalent of 180, according to John Barber.

Flirt has mellowed with the passage of years, and now she’s “quite personable —maybe even a little senile,” he said.

While she was never trained as a saddle pony, she is so gentle that Barber sometimes gives a youngster or two a ride.

This year his sister-in-law, Kim Barber, showed Flirt, who is halter-trained.

The judge gave the pair a break: Flirt would not have to demonstrate the graceful, piston-like trot which is the signature of Hackney
ponies. There was too much mud for the elderly horse to exhibit in the usual area, and no one wanted her to fall on slick asphalt.

His mom no longer goes to the fair, but John Barber said her children and grandchildren are keeping the tradition alive.

He wouldn’t put it past Flirt to make it to the fair next year.

“She’s stood the test of time,” he said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 653-6250 or cleise@chroniclet.com.