Maintaining control of a 1,300-pound steer, a one-ton dairy cow or a rambunctious swine isn’t as simple as some 4-H’ers make it look.
Showmanship is an art form, and it takes years of hard work and dedication to master.
Four Bartholomew County youths had the chance to show off the work and time they’d put in to working with and showing animals over the past 10 years during one of the two Supreme Showmanship contests Friday evening.
Jared Whiteside, Kendra Arnholt and Cody and Evan Speaker, all 18-year-olds from Columbus who are participating in their last county fair, each showed animals from four different classes: swine, dairy, sheep and beef.
Time and effort put in over the years is a “big part of what 4-H actually stands for,” Whiteside said.
The animals didn’t always cooperate. One of the swine gravitated toward where she knew the exit of the ring was, and squealed loudly and fought back when her owner directed her away. One of the dairy cows had to be led in a circle twice before coming into position for judging.
But those things happen, said Lucas Regula, who judged the competition.
The key to showmanship, he said, is presenting an animal well regardless of its looks. He said the best way to do that is to mesh with the animal and to stay calm, cool and collected when it decides it doesn’t want to do what you tell it to do.
Evan Speaker was showing the pig who decided to be defiant, and he echoed Regula’s comment: “You have to keep a level head,” he said.
While he was frustrated, Evan Speaker said getting agitated would just stir up his swine more. So instead, he took a deep breath and worked to get her away from the exit gate.
And overall, Regula said, all four of the 4-H’ers represented themselves and their specific class of animal well. They all knew their animals and the industry and were able to answer the questions he threw at them, such as the average milk production from a dairy cow, or the gestation time for a pig.
They took their time to prepare, he said, and it showed.
All four had been preparing for the specific competition for months, but the work with their specific animals started much earlier.
Whiteside, who showed a 1,310-pound steer for the beef class, said he had been working with that particular animal since it weighed only 300 or 400 pounds.
You have to start working with them that early, he said, or else you won’t be able to control them once they’re fully grown. And from the time that work starts, the hours add up.
When cattle are younger and as they get bigger, you generally work with them two hours a day. In the two or so months leading up to the county fair, that time more than doubles, Whiteside said. He is up taking care of his steer from 6 to 8 a.m. and stays up from 9 to 11:30 p.m. to keep working with the animal.
All that time is worth it, he said, since it’s “what it takes to be competitive.” The time paid off for Whiteside, who went on to win the contest.
Showing animals has other payoffs as well, he said, because 4-H is about so much more than winning a ribbon at the fair. It’s about the people and about the feeling that everyone is “one big family.”
The camaraderie is Arnholt’s favorite part of showing animals and 4-H in general. Whiteside, Arnholt, the Speakers and other 4-H’ers have built friendships while showing animals together over the last 10 years.
That’s what all four said they will miss most, and it’s what will bring them back to the county fair as spectators for years to come.