Showmanship Measures All-Around Skill, Knowledge

8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent

FISHERSVILLE, Va. — On the final weeknight of the Augusta County Fair, Aug. 9, four champions took to a show ring, crowded with four judges and four animals for an all-around showmanship contest, with a $100 grand prize on the line.

The show began with each corner of the ring occupied by different animals — a beef cow, a sheep, a goat and a hog. The grand champions from each of these species’ individual shows earlier in the week spent five minutes with each animal, showing it to the judge and answering questions about the species. After each five-minute period, the contestants rotated to the next animal, and in the end, all four judges’ scores were tallied to rank the competitors.

After the entire circuit, the judges turned in their scores and Elijah Trout, grand champion of the hog show, was named the 2013 supreme showmanship champion, earning a big ribbon and $100.

The four grand champions competing were Jesse Bradley, sheep grand champion, a seventh-grader at Beverly Manor Middle School; Simon Liggett, goat grand champion, a freshman at Buffalo Gap High School; Trout, hog grand champion and a junior at Riverheads High School; and Mackenza Muncy, beef grand champion, who is entering her first year at Germanna Community College.

Throughout the contest, the goat and the hog — occupying the southwest and northwest corners, respectively — carried on their own supreme noisemaker competition, which both of them eventually lost to the engines in an adjacent field that were prepping for a tractor pull.

The hog also spent much of its time trying to escape the temporary pen erected in its corner to keep it from wandering and turning the show ring, in the words of goat show superintendent Steve Kyle, into “a three ring circus.”

In past years, the ring has been slightly more crowded, as the supreme showmanship contest was a five-way affair. After several years of declining entries, however, this year’s fair didn’t feature a dairy show, making for one less grand champion and one less stop on the supreme showmanship circuit.

That may have been a blessing in disguise for some contestants. According to Kyle, one of the main organizers of the event, the dairy cattle perennially presented the biggest challenge to the competitors because the showing technique and criteria differ so drastically from the others.

Absent a dairy cow, Kyle guessed the hog might be the biggest stumbling block for the other competitors because hogs have minds of their own and you can never quite tell what they’re going to do. Sonny Balsley, a fair board member and this year’s barn superintendent, speculated that the goat would be the hardest animal for everyone except the goat grand champion, simply because there aren’t a lot of people with experience showing goats.

The three reserve supreme showmanship competitors also received cash awards, including $75 to Mackenza Muncy, the beef grand champion, while Simon Liggett and Jesse Bradley each earned $25 for their third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively.

Afterwards, the contestants, who grew up showing animals together, agreed that the goat was generally the hardest one, except for Liggett, the goat show winner. As for the money? After briefly considering doing some shopping or spending it in other ways, consensus among the four champions settled on plugging their earnings back into their livestock show habits. Feed isn’t cheap, and every little bit helps.

That decision served as a good reflection of comments made earlier in the evening by Balsley, when asked about the deep-down, long-term significance of livestock shows like the ones at the Augusta County Fair.

“Kids that take care of livestock projects learn so much stuff that they don’t even realize — responsibility, how to manage their money, how to manage their time — things that us grownups are supposed to know,” he said. These contests “build character. They learn how to win and how to lose.”

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