As I had the opportunity to return to my roots after being out of the show scene for a couple years due to college and work, I enjoyed seeing the next draft of youngsters walking into the ring and showing off their goats, steers and hogs. It brought back floods of memories and made me think about what this program and the tradition of county fair meant to me.
I couldn't help but smile as I watched a young girl manhandle a goat that probably weighed more than she did and continuously look ringside for the cues from her coach, a young man not much younger than myself. Her determination, competitive attitude and eager spirit was entertaining as well as enjoyable. It made me laugh as I took pictures of two little girls chasing a hog around the ring in the PeeWee division of the swine show. Although they were doing little more than tapping the hog with their bats and clearly without any real control of the animal, it was still humorous to see their excited smiles and witness their desire to be in the ring at that young age.
Then I was brought back to more recent years as I listened to young people prepare to market their animals at the sale for the last time. The auctioneer announced that this was the exhibitor's last year in 4-H to encourage higher bidding. As one young lady announced she was donating the proceeds to form a scholarship fund, she explained how she had grown up raising and showing hogs her whole life and struggled emotionally to bring this journey to an end. I thought about my numerous years raising and showing cattle and what not only the competition meant to me, but the countless hours spent raising, selecting and preparing my stock for the show.
Over the 11 years I competed in 4-H, I can't even begin to count the many memories I made. Whether it was staying up late setting up a stall display, getting to the barn before sunrise to get 8 head of cattle ready for show, or giving my steer a hug goodbye after the sale, I had fun, made friends, and learned important life lessons. I learned about being committed to my animals and providing the best care for them. I learned my dinner and bed were always last on the priority list. And I practiced good sportsmanship whether I won or lost.
Not only am I proud of how it shaped my life, but I'm excited about giving back and helping the next "show team". As I told one of my "adopted moms" at the fair this year, "I'm wondering which will come sooner, me getting to show again or finding a little person to help!"
If you were involved in 4-H, how did it shape your life? What memories do you have of county fair? What do you plan to do to pass on what you learned to the next draft of youngsters?
Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!