I watch Lorelei interact with kids 5 or 6 years older than her and try to do everything they do, knowing that they will be the teenagers she’s looking up to when she begins her showing career.
I can’t help but think back to my first time showing my own pigs. When, while watching the senior showmanship class, my dad said, “You see Julie and Hope? You watch everything they do.”
So I did, with all the focus an 11 year old kid could muster.
I watched them make laps across the ring, slow and steady, finding the open spaces. I studied the way they penned their pigs and waited for the judge’s cue to bring them back into the ring. I tried to eavesdrop as they answered the judge’s questions.
I was a sponge. If Julie and Hope did it, then that was what I was going to do too.
Chances are, there’s a parent telling his young showman to watch you.
Whether you’re in the show ring, the wash racks or your tack pen, there is always someone watching. As showmen, we bear the great responsibility to represent the best of the agriculture industry and the 4-H and FFA programs.
So now that the show season is beginning, I’d like to offer some advice to you older showmen:
1. Help other showmen.
Help the 9 year old whose pig keeps running away from him make it back to the pen. Share your spray bottle with someone in the makeup ring. It will probably have no effect on the rest of your day but it might just turn theirs around.
2. Participate in the skillathon.
Most shows have a skillathon, quiz bowl or some sort of event that focuses on industry knowledge. Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more of the older showmen skipping out on the skillathon because apparently they are too cool for it. Or worse, they participate but talk and make jokes the whole time.
Remember, there was a time when you didn’t know how to calculate average daily gain, had no idea what was in your pig’s feed and couldn’t tell the difference between a Boston butt and a picnic shoulder. You took the time to learn those things because you knew it would help you to be a more well rounded showman and take better care of your pigs.
You know that learning is important to being a successful in the show ring, set that example for younger showmen.
3. Dress modestly and appropriately.
Ladies, this one mostly for you.
I don’t care if you are the greatest livestock showman to ever live, if your jeans are too tight and your shirts are too low cut people are going to say that’s the only reason you won. Take pride in yourself as a person (and in the example that you are setting for younger showmen) and let your skill in the show ring make a statement, not your clothes.
If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion on this topic, please see my post: How to dress for livestock showmanship.
4. Don’t lose your temper with your animal.
I know first hand how frustrating and embarrassing it is when your animal doesn’t cooperate. (I once had a Ky. State Fair judge joke on the microphone that I should have entered my hog in the pig races instead of the pig show. I was mortified!)
You know what I guarantee won’t make it any better? Losing your temper.
I’ve heard judges tell stories about dismissing showmen from the ring because they weren’t keeping their temper in check. (And I’m glad they did!) No ribbon, banner or buckle is that important, I promise.
5. Remember that you might be the only “hog farmer” some people ever meet.
Whether you’re at the state fair or a county show, you never know when a non-farm person will be watching you work with your animals. You might be the only example of how farmers treat their animals that they ever see. (Making number 4 all the more important!)
If they ask you questions, take them seriously. Give them thoughtful, educational answers. Be friendly. Remember that you probably aren’t an expert on their industry either.
6. Shake the judge’s hand after the show.
I don’t care if you disagreed with every word he spoke and the way he placed every single class. At the end of the show, you thank the judge. Its just the right thing to do.
Someday you might have the privilege of judging a livestock show and you’ll realize how difficult that job really is. When that day comes, you’ll remember which showmen came up to you after to thank you.
There are always younger showmen watching you.
At an ag event last year, someone told me that they had interviewed an FFA member who said that I was her role model. I was obviously very flattered, but I didn’t recognize the girl’s name. After a quick Facebook search, I realized that she had shown pigs and was a participant in one of the workshops I had given at Ky. FFA Convention several years ago.
I hardly knew her, but she knew me.
You never know who is following your example. You never know who is looking up to you.
Hold yourself to a higher standard because the next generation is who’s really watching you at livestock shows.
UPDATE (May 28, 2014):
Several readers have contacted me who feel like I am “publicly shaming” girls in this post’s third point. I have also had many readers (showmen, 4-H/FFA leaders and parents) who have contacted me to thank me for bluntly addressing this issue.
Let me make clear, my choice of words was not intended to “shame” anyone. It was strongly worded to serve as a wake up call to teenage girls that this is how unprofessional and overly sexualized dress in the show ring is viewed by others. I stand by my words wholeheartedly, ladies should “let your skill in the show ring make a statement, not your clothes.”
I directed this at ladies specifically because I have never witnessed (nor heard stories from fellow showmen/judges) about young men dressing immodestly in the show ring.
If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion of how to dress for livestock showmanship, please see this post from my blog archives.