Do Life Lessons or Winning Matter More?
As parents, there are many who enjoy seeing their child win at the county fair or at a sports competition. For many, it’s an extension of themselves – of things they did or, sometimes, didn’t get to do.
It’s the time of year of county fairs, state fairs and livestock competitions for many. The winners of the Troy D. Nealey memorial award for showmanship have been chosen for another year. These are kids that may not have the best animal, but make the most of what they have.
Growing up, I did a lot of that. Angus and Holsteins dominate at fairs, but I showed a Charolais and a Brown Swiss. While others had beautiful quarter horses I had a non-descript crossbred pony.
That pony probably put on more miles than any two fancy horses at the shows. It was a time when the same pony did halter, showmanship, English Pleasure, Western pleasure, keyhole, barrel and pole race, costumes and whatever else came forth to do.
Not unlike several others, we didn’t have the most expensive animals. To many, perhaps, they weren’t worthy of being shown. We didn’t have the “fuzzycow” look as our heifers and cows were on pasture until the night we went to the fair!
There were blue ribbons, white ribbons, trophies and tears. There was the occasional fat steer that got loose and crafts of a wide range. There was the quest for finding the required number of tomatoes, corn or beans in the garden that looked enough alike for gardening exhibits. There was learning to put up an entomology display (that’s bug board to many!) with bugs we’d caught and identified from flies to butterflies.
The trophies and ribbons were destroyed in a fire. Boxes and boxes of ribbons and many awards from both 4-H and FFA. All gone. My blue FFA jacket – gone.
What remains? The memory of sportsmanship in congratulating the black supreme bovine owner – again. The memory of a piece of straw on a pony’s belly spoiling a showmanship class – imperfection missed. The memories of dog obedience trials, knitting and sewing projects I struggled through and pouring over entry requirements. It was learning to be responsible in getting the vet out in time to get required health tests and papers to show the animals.
It was hard lessons sometimes – a favorite calf died, or a heifer didn’t breed and there’s no room for pets. Not all were pleasant.
There was qualifying for the state fair with a stray border collie mutt in dog obedience *and* a Brown Swiss heifer. Angel, the heifer, had to be at the fair a couple of days before Jerry’s dog obedience trial, so no last minute preparation with him. It was sweet freedom and responsibility – sleeping in the dorm at the state fair, determining my own day revolving around insuring Angel was clean, watered, fed and comfortable.
The family came down with Jerry early the morning of the obedience competition. We did a quick tuneup practice and waited. Jerry was wound up at finding me – to say Jerry was a shadow was like saying a potato has a peel. He was always rightthere as I ventured around the farm. We breezed through the on leash and off leash tests. The down/stay and sit/stay were nervewracking but he stuck. We had one last exercise – the recall.
I had him sit, said “STAY!” and walked across the ring. He was shaking and I was willing the judge to ok the command. “Jerry COME!” He didn’t need to hear twice and ran so fast I had to spit out “DOWN!!” part way across. He downed, shaking with excitement. “Jerry COME!” He ran straight to me, did a perfect sit and ever so gently put both paws on my leg – remaining sitting. Instant disqualification. The judge laughed and apologized as the DQ was marked on the card. “Jerry heel!” and he swung around to finish the exercise. So close to a top run.
That memory lasted a whole lot longer than the run of trophies and ribbons we won. I see it in some of the dogs now, not nearly so talented in training as Jerry was. Jerry was smart. Devious sometimes. Quirky. But smart.
And it’s lessons with that stray mutt, dumped at the farm at six weeks old, that last. It’s remembering miles covered on Joe, the pony, with Jerry trailing after. It’s the lessons that remain. The memories that give patience to not be too hard on Girl when she’s naughty or Bella when she jumps out a window because I can’t feed by myself – they’ll be gone far too soon, like Jerry. Like Joe. Like Angel, and Michele and Gumbeck and Midget.
The memories and lessons are for a lifetime.