If you are lucky, you’ll have a moment when you realize your child is becoming strong and independent and confident in the best possible way.
I have that moment captured in a series of pictures.
Taken a few years ago in the haze of 100-degree heat and wildfire smoke mixed with the dust of an eastern Washington show arena, the pictures show my ballerina-slim daughter Lindsay facing off with a 1,100-pound show cow that has had enough.
The cow is trying to yank the halter rope out of her hands and run out of the arena, but Lindsay sets the heels of her boots in the dirt and tightens her grip. In one photo, you can see Lindsay flying up off the ground while the cow tries to get the better of her, but in the final photo, you see the cow following obediently, while Lindsay wears a big smile.
If you are outweighed by an animal 10 to one, your only advantages are confidence, courage and determination.
I have cow shows to thank for that.
Around the country, kids are getting their animals ready for fair. 4H and Future Farmers of America are youth programs that help guide and grow young minds through dedication to community service and innovation through hands-on learning.
More than 100 years ago, 4H started as a way to introduce reluctant farmers to new agriculture techniques through youth projects that showed real-world results. For generations, these programs have formed core experiences not only for future farmers but future community leaders as well.
Lindsay started at the tiny Wahkiakum County Fair when she was 10 with a bottle-fed polled Hereford bull calf named Bozo. He was a handful, but she learned quickly how to not let him push her around.
Since then, she has shown heifers, female cows that haven’t had their first calf. These are older and bigger than that first bull-calf, usually a little short of 2 years old, pregnant and more than 1,000 pounds. Quite a bit bigger than the kids showing them.
Since Nelson Polled Herefords is focused on improving the bloodlines of the breed, showing off heifers promotes the health and quality of the animals. For Lindsay’s second-year showing, we were invited over to eastern Washington to a show called the Summer Sizzle in Connell.
It was a little taste of big-time livestock shows where farm kids from around the state compete with their animals to earn money for college. It was hot and dusty, a lot of sitting around in the barn waiting, punctuated by a crescendo of the behind-the-scenes controlled chaos leading up to tense moments in the show arena.
Despite the hours of training to get here, you never know if your animal is going to act up in the ring in a way it never did back home. Nervous trauma-nurse dad paced the ringside those first few years, picturing worst-case scenarios.
However, the girls — first Lindsay, then her younger sister, Grace — loved it. They loved being in the barn with other farm girls, taking care of their animals’ feed and water as well as washing and blow-dry. They loved learning from Leslie Bennett, the Connell 4H leader, as well as the older kids who show them what to do and what the judges want to see. Somehow, while this is fierce competition with big money on the line, everyone was helpful, supportive and kind.
Leslie Bennett is the granddaughter of the famous Bill Bennett of BB Cattle Company, which has partnered with Nelson Polled Herefords for 30 years. Bennetts have been a part of 4H for a long time. Sitting around their kitchen table eating grapes and watermelon this year, we picked out a young Bill and wife Norma in a photo from a 4H conference at Washington State University in 1948.
We don’t win. The style these days is for a different type of animal, and the kids we are showing against have mountains more experience under their belt from the summer show circuit. For our heifers, it is often their first chance in a show ring. Yet the girls love it.
For both cows and kids, it is a good warm-up for the county fair in August. The beef barn was empty that first year we brought little Bozo to fair. In the years since, we’ve seen a little resurgence as more kids and cows come in.
Lindsay and Grace have been good ambassadors for the 4H and for their cows. The heifers are so gentle and tame by fair time that they lay down and let the girls cuddle with them in the straw. Last year, Lindsay and Grace even took their cows to state fair.
After the fair, the bond between the girls and their animals remains such that they can walk up to the old show cows in the field and pet them.
Meanwhile, Lindsay will be a senior next year. She’s spent the last two years as a statewide 4H ambassador, traveling all over the Pacific Northwest promoting the benefits of 4H and organizing camps and conferences for teenagers like the one Bill and Norma Bennett attended way back in 1948.
If you ask her what gave her the confidence to do the things she does, she always points you back to training and showing cows and lessons learned along the way.
Ed Hunt is a writer and registered nurse who blogs on medical issues at redtriage.com and on other subjects at theebbtide.blogspot.com. He lives in Grays River.