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Clark: At fair, one gander at Big John quiets neigh-sayers

Big John stands slightly over 20 hands high. The Percheron is a dollar-a-peek attraction at the Spokane County Interstate Fair. (Jesse Tinsley)
Big John stands slightly over 20 hands high. The Percheron is a dollar-a-peek attraction at the Spokane County Interstate Fair. (Jesse Tinsley)

Every show needs a star.

And this year’s incarnation of the Spokane County Interstate Fair has a mane attraction that towers above all.

Big John.

That’s the name of the 8-foot, ink-black horse who can be found inside a white-and-red stable, just a short amble north of the grandstands.

“Giant Horse” blares the sign in scarlet above the stable door. “Over a ton of living horsepower.”

And all to be seen for the admission price of a single dollar.

Now I’ve always been a sucker for that oddball brand of fair fun known as the, ahem, sideshow come-on.

Back when I was in high school, in fact, I stood in a line at one of our county fairs and paid a small fee for the privilege of entering a sideshow tent. Inside I watched an armless/deformed man play the violin – with his toes.

Col. Hoppy, I believe his name was.

He was pretty good, too.

With that sort of history, however, you can see why I wandered eagerly into Big John’s stable on Sunday with some friends.

A few feet later we stopped dead in our tracks.

And craned our necks up-up-and-up to take in the full extent of this magnificent muscular equine.

“Holy (bleep)!!” I exclaimed.

That scatological utterance is repeated more than 100 times a day, said Bunky Boger, Big John’s owner and biggest fan.

“At first people come up and say, ‘Is there really a horse in there?’ Or ‘Do you have a horse up on cinder blocks?’ 

“Well, this is the Wal-Mart guarantee. If you’re not satisfied by what you see, I’ll gladly give you your money back.”

Bunky grinned.

“Not once has anyone asked for a refund.”

Bunky Boger is an exhibit all by himself. I would have gladly paid a buck just to talk to this charming, 83-year-old former rodeo performer.

Bunky gushed when talking about Big John, calling him “a very nice animal, an adorable joy to work with.”

The horse, he added, “was born in Wisconsin, but I bought him in Oklahoma.” He’s 10 years old, by the way, and this is first visit to Spokane.

A sign in the stable offers further details: Big John is a Percheron – a “breed of draft horse that originated in Northern France.”

While known for their enormity, Percherons generally run about 17 hands, which is the way horses are traditionally measured, one hand being about 10 centimeters.

Big John stands slightly over 20 hands.

To put that in perspective, an Internet search revealed that the biggest horse ever measured stood 21 hands.

None of that stuff really matters, however.

The proof, as they say, is in getting up-close and personal with a critter who each day will consume 40 pounds of feed, a bale of hay and 25 gallons of water.

And Big John is just one of the animal offerings from Bunky and Connie, his wife of 40 years.

Together, the Bogers run Animal Specialties, a combination petting farm and educational exhibit set up across from Big John’s stable. The zoo features some 200 animals ranging from common goats to riding ponies to an exotic long-horned African Watusi.

The farm is free to roam. The Bogers make their money selling cups of feed that kids can pass on to the critters.

Getting back to the sideshow, however, the Bogers also have a freakishly huge hog named Harley that you can get to know for 50 cents.

Not to be a naysayer, but my appreciation of Harley was somewhat ruined after spending time with Big John.

The life of the Bogers surely must take some getting used to.

On the road from February to November, hitting one fair after another, hauling their animals, employees and infrastructure in five 53-foot semitrailers.

Home to the Bogers, when they’re not on the move, is in Springdale, Ark.

“I’ve done it all my life,” said Bunky of being around animals and being on the road.

“I was divorced for a long while and I always said that as long as there was perma-press shirts and TV dinners I’d never get married again.”

Then Bunky met Connie and they found a common bond in their desire to educate people about a vanishing part of America.

“It is an adjustment,” she said of their nomadic lifestyle. “But our goal is to promote agriculture. If we can get one person into agriculture, it’s all worthwhile.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or