Today is a rare day during county fair season….it’s an off morning. A morning I can spend some time reading and reflecting. Today a good friend shared this article. I read it thinking back to our boys show careers and also reflecting on the changes I’ve seen in other youth over the years in the cattle show rings.
Jennifer Shike reminds us that stock show kids are just a little different and explains how showing livestock develops confidence in kids. I have to agree. If you’ll indulge me for just a minute, I’ll share some experiences and observations with you.
- You develop courage when you enter the ring.
Chris was 8 when he was finally allowed to show “big” animals. Jesse was 7 when he took a bigger heifer to the State Fair. The courage they developed when they walked those calves into the ring for the first time had nothing to do with how broke the calf was. It had more to do with showing off their work to the crowd around the ring, allowing someone (the judge) to critique their animals, and to allow others to evaluate their skills. Chris broke his glasses the morning of the steer show that first year at our county fair. He couldn’t see much without the glasses and that may have been a blessing in disguise, but he went out there and showed the steer into the Champion spot, winning the fitting contest and the showmanship contest along the way. Jesse had a heifer that was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her mouth between the county fair and the State Fair. While he was heartbroken thinking she would die, he showed courage in figuring out a course of treatment that meant she’d miscarry the calf but possibly save her life. (Turned out she went on to have several more calves for him.) Courage….to face the opinions of others, to do what’s necessary even in the face of adversity, to just do it.
- You learn believing in yourself matters.
To do well in showmanship and in the show ring, you have to believe in not only your animal but also yourself. We have watched countless young people over the years go through this metamorphosis. Showing livestock requires faith and conviction in what you bring to the ring. While the guys often don’t get to see the kids showing our calves because they’re busy fitting, I enjoy watching and helping ringside. To set yourself apart from the crowd you learn to be laser-focused on your animal, the judge and everything around you at all times. This year we’ve been watching a couple of young men and a young girl go through this change. All 3 started the year a little timid, a little unsure of themselves and their animals. But with time, this translates into a belief in yourself and an awareness in the role you play in getting that animal shown well. When you have confidence in your animal and yourself, it pays off in the show ring but more importantly it pays off in life.
- You gain knowledge and skills that empower.
So here’s the deal. If you don’t gain knowledge and skills while you’re showing livestock, you are missing the point. I’m not just talking about the ability to feed, fit, clip, or show. I’m not just talking about the parts of an animal or the skill of judging. I’m talking about being able to take what you’re learning and translate it to the rest of your life. Judging contests give you the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills along with speech and debate skills. Clipping and fitting are skills that can earn you a little money, but it is also an art. Feeding an animal teaches you about nutrition and involves a lot of math skills. You’ve got a whole curriculum in one animal to learn from that year. Use it, not just to win a show, but to learn the life skills.
- You realize the work is more satisfying than the win.
Can I get an amen?!? Sure, we all want to get that champion slap and banner. BUT, do we quit showing as soon as we don’t win a show? Likely no. Hopefully, no. The lessons learned in the barn are often more of a win than any banner. Our sons learned they can always rely on each other. The phrase, “It takes teamwork to make the dream work” is a perfect motto for how our boys raised and showed cattle and even how they work the farm and ranch today as adults. We know folks who believe if they don’t win this show or that show they should just give up. It’s hard for us to work with that mindset. Now don’t get me wrong, goals are good. Striving to do your very best is always important. But winning a prize is a whole lot less important than realizing how important the work you did through the entire year is a lot more important.
- You learn you’re not alone.
This one is the best in my opinion. Life is going to throw a lot of curves your way. You need to know you’ve got folks in your corner. We know that even today, if something big comes up, our show family is there for us. We’ve seen our community come together to support families through cancer diagnosis, losses of children, births, deaths, wins, losses, marriages, divorces, good times and bad. Stock show kids aren’t normal and they need a support system that’s not normal. We were blessed that our boys grew up with a group of kids that were very competitive in the show ring and yet they were extremely supportive of each other in and out of the ring. We need more of that than ever in the world today.
We’ve just come off two weeks filled with shows. This lessons are playing out over and over at each show we go to. Thank God for Stock Show Kids and Families.