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COLUMBUS, Ind. — For those who have ever wondered why the youngest participants in the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair are called the Lil’ Wranglers, a strapping, 300-pound calf quickly provided the answer Saturday morning.
She powerfully jerked away from 5-year-old Ethan Hall and juked and faked her way with the grace of an NFL running back past a couple of people near the entrance of the fair pavilion and crashed under a table to hide from onlookers.
Talk about milking drama out of the opening of the dairy show.
However, the youngster shook off the excitement, boldly took the reins once more with the help of sister Emmy Frederick, and grinned broadly after finally leading the animal calmly around the show ring as if nothing ever happened.
“I thought it was great,” he said.
Mom Nichole Hall stood proudly beside her boy afterward.
“Sometimes, when the animals get into the ring for the first time, they get startled,” she said. “But he wasn’t afraid. He took her and latched back onto her.
“You can’t really prevent that except by really trying to hang on. But I certainly didn’t want the cow to just drag him around.”
Lil’ Wranglers was launched four years ago to nurture the youngest’s passion for all things 4-H. Program participants have doubled since 2009, growing to more than 140 children from ages 5 to 9, according to figures from Becky Speaker, one of three Wrangler coordinators.
“I think it’s spreading mostly by word of mouth,” Speaker said.
Six-year-old Libby Otte stood next to 3-month-old calf Twinkletoes afterward and played with her ears and playfully dangled her participant’s ribbon from the animal’s forehead.
“I’m going to hang this on my (bedroom) wall,” Libby said.
Meanwhile, Twinkletoes leaned in and licked a bystander’s arm. Dad Darren Otte stood behind everyone sporting a bright yellow dairyman’s T-shirt reading, “Got Flies?” During the brief showing, he stood with his hands on his hips behind the animal, studying everything almost like a golfer lining up a shot.
“I just wanted to see how she was getting her set up,” Otte said. “Even though Libby’s very small, I still try to teach her the right way of doing it. We did some walk-throughs at home.”
Participant Abbi Schiefer, wearing a pink pullover and matching pink cowboy boots, looked at a questioner as if he were clueless when asked why she joined in the fun with a cousin’s four-month-old calf named Gracie.
“I just like the animals,” she said.
Gracie grew antsy at the end of her turn in the spotlight and defiantly turned her muzzle away from the youngster as Libby led her out of the pavilion. The child calmed her with gentle petting.
“We told her she was going to have to do all the work,” said mom Staci Schiefer. “She’s been drug around the barn a lot with her. But she hangs on.”
A tough-but-good lesson for any wrangler, big or little, according to mom.
Otte mentioned that the program’s goal really focuses on the joy of participation.
“That’s the main thing,” he said. “They ought to be having fun.”
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