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Livestock show exclusive: "Rules don't apply to winners."

Parents, kids and coaching look a lot different from inside the livestock show ring. What I learned from my time as ring help at a livestock show.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

August 19, 2016

4 Min Read

As a parent of a livestock show kid, I sat in the stands; I paced along the fence; I stood behind the bleachers with my hands cupped over my eyes; and I retreated to the pens. But there is one place I never experienced until this year at the Missouri State Fair. I was ring gatekeeper for the 4-H sheep market lamb and breeding sheep shows.


Now, it was no small feat to fill the shoes of a woman who has been running the show ring ever since my kids were little some 20 years ago. Sharon Keim is a family friend and her mother was recovering from a hospital stay and could not make it to the fair this year. So, she asked if our family would help. The opportunity provided me with an interesting perspective on livestock shows.

For so long, I was an observer standing outside the show ring. This year, I was on the inside. And I found out some things are different.

--Parents. Wow, are we nervous. I always knew I was nervous when my kids were in the show ring, but watching other parents, I realized just how nervous I looked. The problem is that when we as parents look apprehensive, it shows all over our face and our children are reading our reactions.

When that leg is set just a tick in, we wince. When they are pulled out of the top lineup, we tilt our head. As they leave the ring, we head back to the pen. All the while, our kids are watching us. As parents, we truly may not care what place our child gets in the show ring, but our actions may say otherwise.

--Coaches. Whether in 4-H or FFA, exhibitors want their animal to look its best. Often they look outside of the show ring for help. Mine were that way. They looked to their uncle for assistance. In part, because let's face it, when you are all of four feet tall and cannot see the end of the lamb or calf, it is hard to tell if the feet are set correctly.

I may be in the minority here, but I am now a big fan of numbering legs of animals to help a child identify which leg to adjust. At the sheep barn, parents or helpers held up fingers. Over at the cattle show parents snapped a number of times to signify which leg needed an adjustment. These kids want to get the most out of that animal and present it to the best of their ability. Sometimes, that requires a little "coaching" from the sidelines. I am okay with that because it shows they put in the extra effort to devise a plan and practice it at home.

--Competitors. In the ring, I found a difference between exhibitors and competitors. Now, I am not lumping every competitor into this group, but you know the ones. The entitled ones. The ones who believe that lining up by weight does not apply to them. They stand with their animal off to the side despite being called to come in line. They are the ones who enter in their own time. They are known as the "winners" because in fact, they have won many times in the past.

Here is my problem--younger eyes are watching. Youth take note--what you do is seen by the next generation. Teach them to obey rules no matter how many times you win. Winning does not give you a separate set of rules. Obey the ones in place. Respect those running the ring. And parents, you see your child do this--correct it, no matter the age.

--Exhibitors. The majority of youth taking part in livestock shows are extremely helpful to each other. There were many times exhibitors would pitch in to show another members animal. When moving around the ring, they would help that one exhibitor whose lamb decided not to walk by providing a quick nudge.

Our livestock youth are the best in the nation at congratulating each other. Showing livestock teaches sportsmanship. They take their animal and walk across the ring to shake the winner's hand. But it doesn't stop there, they then walk straight to the judge.

This is the best part of being inside the ring. You don't miss it. You see the actions of those inside and outside of the ring. Parts make me cringe, probably because I see myself in the faces of parents. Other aspects make me smile. These show stock kids are some of the best around. They enjoy the show and each other. They are even friendly to a newbie on the show ring crew. 

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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