Lessons from the show ring

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It’s late July; temperatures are averaging in the mid- to upper-90s nearly every day – that can only mean one thing: it’s county fair time!

Noah proudly displaying her trophy after being named the county's champion swine showman. As a former 12-year 4-Her, county fairs and 4-H will always have a special place in my heart. From learning the proper way to fit a heifer and to show a market hog to baking cinnamon rolls and more, 4-H taught me many a valuable lesson over the years. Lessons that I didn’t learned in the classroom. Lessons that more of today’s youth should learn.

While my 4-H days are long past and we’ll have another eight before our daughter is able to begin a 4-H career, I am blessed to have several nieces and nephews who are just starting out as junior members. And last week, I attended my first county fair in more than a decade to watch my niece Noah and nephew Tucker proudly showcase their projects.

Looking back on the week, while I am sure Noah and Tucker learned more than me, I walked away from the Ellsworth County fair reminded of a few of the important lessons I learned as a Circle B 4-H member in Doniphan County.

Hard work – it pays off:  Noah is a competitor. She’s brave. She’s smart beyond her years. But she’s also a worker. Last Thursday morning, I headed down to the fairgrounds to watch her show her pigs. I got there just as the senior showmen were taking to the ring. Noah, along with a fellow junior showman Weston, watched intently, asking questions about why the seniors did certain things. They soaked it up through the senior class and half of the intermediates before heading back to get their pigs ready to go.

Then it was their turn. Noah and Weston entered the ring and turned it on. They applied what they saw from the older showmen and what they’d been taught throughout the summer as they worked with their pigs. With an eye on the judge and continuous driving of their animals, Noah and Weston took first and second in the junior class, respectively, and exited the ring as the judge noted “these juniors could compete with older showmen…”

And compete they did! During the championship drive, the judge complimented all of the 4-H members for their efforts, but he selected the two youngsters as his overall champion and reserve champion.

Tucker is a cloverbud, meaning he is still too young to be a full 4-Her. He was able to show a bucket calf this year though. Winning is fun – there’s no doubt about it. But the outcome of showmanship was the direct result of a strong work ethic of two young 4-Hers. Noah and Weston worked hard with their pigs, applied what they learned from others, and were successful.

Learning…even when you don’t win:  Noah decided to try her hand at photography this year, and she asked me to help her with her project. I wish I could say we started months ago with practice sessions, but our practice turned into a crash course – the basics of composition, lighting, focus, etc.

Noah came over one evening and we selected photos for the fair – two color and two black and white. When one came back from the printer a little blurrier than her mama, daddy and Aunt Mary liked, our initial plan was to pick another and try for better results. Then we thought about it again, and decided those were the four photos Noah picked. And after all, it was Noah’s project.

So the original four were entered, and the blurry photo received a red. It wasn’t a grand champion; it won’t be competing at the state fair either. But Noah wants to do photography again next year and wants to get better. So while she didn’t win with her photography project, she learned a new skill – one that she wants to improve upon.

A little bravery adds two feet in stature:  Because she won showmanship in one species, Noah earned the right to compete in the round-robin showmanship competition. On the last evening of the fair, Noah, along with the other species champions (all of whom had quite a few years on her) competed head-to-head showing a horse, a steer, a hog, a market lamb and a goat.

First was the horse, and second was the steer. This nearly 1,350 pound animal was not exactly thrilled about going back to the show ring and let his owner, the champion beef showman, know about it from the get go by pushing, shoving and generally being a bully in the way that show steers can often be.

Uh-oh. Except for practicing that day with a steer, Noah, at a whopping 65 pounds soaking wet, has showed bucket calves. But when her turn came, she took the halter and slowly walked the steer into the ring.

I don’t think a single person in the stands took a breath while she was out there, but she proved to herself and to all the spectators that she could do it. She didn’t let adversity in the form of a rambunctious steer keep her from competing.

Noah walked out of that ring a few inches taller last Friday (she was also quickly told that she was ready to show a heifer next year!).

4-H is a wonderful organization – for the young and the old. While the news these days is filled with negativity (stories of kids shooting kids; youth failing in school; kids going hungry), last week’s Ellsworth County fair reminded me that there are a lot of really fantastic youngsters out there. And also a lot of supportive parents and adult volunteers who are helping these kids.

4-Hers are learning valuable skills that they’ll take with them throughout their life. Leadership. Animal husbandry. Domestic traits like cooking, sewing, gardening. Financial management. Public speaking. Hard work. Respect. They learn how to win and how to lose, and how to do both with grace.

And hopefully, those lessons they’re learning in the show ring today will help them grow into honest, hardworking leaders tomorrow.

How about you – were you in 4-H? What are some of your fondest 4-H memories? 

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July, 25, 2014 at 12:59 PM

I too showed while growing up. Youth showing does teach a lot of good things that prepare a kid for life. However, how to select productive, efficient, adapted livestock is not one of them.

Texas  |  July, 25, 2014 at 01:16 PM

Enjoyed your story! It was great & yes I was in 4-H & our 3 children. We are already looking forward to the grandkids showing. Yes, taking care of those animals taught them that husbandry will apply to their own children. All that was learned is used today. Glad that Noah got to do photography, we sure enjoyed ours and even pics that aren't the best still show real life. Thanks for the article!

michigan  |  July, 27, 2014 at 03:13 PM

I never was in 4h...but this was my son's first year. I learned that taking care of this animal is their job and in the end they shall be compensated. You must work to succeed...my son won first place for showmanship in his division and sold his animal quite well. I made him work for this and it paid off greatly with pride.

Nicholasville, KY  |  August, 03, 2014 at 06:23 AM

Thanks for a great article! Some of the fondest memories from my childhood took place at the county fair. It was THE event to which we looked forward with eager anticipation for an entire year. Our three daughters have all been 4-H members; the youngest of whom will complete her 10th year in 2015. The memories that we've made and share, the life-skills that have been developed and practiced and the friendships that were forged, bonded and endure will all last a lifetime.

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