The smallest participant and the smallest goat walked side by side in a line of 16 others Wednesday at the Indiana State Fair.
Riley Croddy, 8, clad from head to toe in white, showed off her 2-month-old Alpine goat Mystique for the judges in the Alpine Dry Junior Doe competition.
Riley was the youngest in her class and is too young to be in 4-H officially.
Riley is a Lil’ Wrangler, part of a program in her county and many others that allows children who are too young to officially be in 4-H to show other peoples’ animals.
At their county fair, they compete just before the regular livestock showings. At the state fair, they show against 4-H’ers, many much older. Anywhere from 150 to 175 very excited children participate each year in Bartholomew County, where Riley lives.
This was her first year showing at the state fair, and she won a pink ribbon for fourth place with Mystique.
“It’s just my favorite thing!” Riley said.
Jolinda Smiar, an employee of the Purdue Extension Bartholomew County, believes the Lil’ Wranglers program teaches children responsibility and inspires them to be more active in their communities in the future.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage the younger ones. They want to know how much fun it is to take that animal into the show ring,” she said.
“For a long time, all the little kids got to do was watch.”
Riley, for one, always wanted to be in 4-H like her older cousin, Josey Rutan, and has cared for goats since age 3. On weekends, and sometimes more often in the summer, Riley goes to Rutan’s farm to help out.
“I help milk them, help feed them and give them bottles,” an enthusiastic Riley said, looking at her cousin. “She taught me all that stuff.”
Riley said her favorite part is caring for the babies; sometimes they suck on her fingers and tickle her hands, which she finds adorable.
Rutan lives on Mayberry Farm, which has been in her family since her grandparents bought a tiny house that eventually was expanded and added goats, chickens, three cats and a dog. The Rutans sell eggs, give away goat’s milk to anyone who wants it and also make goat’s milk ice cream — a delicacy that Riley said is much better than normal ice cream, at least when it’s vanilla.
Rutan acquires a group of Lil’ Wranglers each year and lets them show her animals for her. This year, she has four Lil’ Wranglers to assist, Riley being one of those under her guidance. Rutan takes on this role because she wants to get more kids involved in 4-H, off the couch and into the outdoors.
“They don’t realize 4-H is an education,” said Rutan. “It gets them ready, almost for real life.”
Riley only has one year until she’ll be an official 4-H member, and her excitement is hard for her to contain. She has progressed her way up the 4-H ladder from a Clover Bud to a Mini 4-Her, and on the side as a Lil’ Wrangler.
“It’s a good education for you because you get to learn more about animals,” Riley said.
Besides being old enough to attend 4-H camp and getting to take on the responsibility of raising animals on her own, Riley is excited about the ribbons and awards she could win when she is an official member.
So far Riley has won a handful of trophies and ribbons for showing her dairy goat in Bartholomew and Jackson counties. She has also won a special Pee Wee Showmanship Award.
Riley and her cousin don’t leave their goats unattended for long at the state fair; they sit in a pen next door playing games like Disney Trivia.
They also field questions from fairgoers, who sometimes ask about their goats’ names, which have a new theme each year — this year being superheroes.
On Wednesday, Riley got up from her chair to admire her pink ribbon frequently. She smiled, jumped up and down, and waved it around, her satisfaction with what she had accomplished clear from the look on her face.
“It’s pretty fun at the fair!” she said.
Alex Kincaid is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair.