Jared Lankford: See you at the fair, it's showtime

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Summer is one of my favorite times of the year.

There are several reasons to get excited: the weather warms up, days are longer and area youth fairs fill the calendars.

I have long advocated that the results from county fairs should run on the sports page. Although I have lost this argument with my editors, I believe my reasoning is sound.

It takes hours of preparation, nerves of steel, a little luck and a lot of applied knowledge to win in the show arena.

For full disclosure's sake, I showed hogs for 16 years and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA.

During my showing career, I won three state championships, two state breed championships and a state showmanship title.

I exhibited hogs in Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri and loved every minute of the process.

It is easy to dismiss the hard work and dedication put into getting an animal ready for the show arena.

After all, to the untrained eye, you see animals circle in an area for five minutes before ribbons are passed out.

It is like watching soccer for the first time. You have a bunch of people running and kicking a ball without the appearance of

any strategy.

However, when you understand what goes into preparing an animal for that main event, it makes you appreciate the art of showing and science of animal husbandry.

In order to be ready for a fair in June or July, preparation begins in October, when it is time to breed an animal.

A pig's gestation is 114 days, better known as three months, three weeks and three days at three in the morning.

Once the litter hits the ground in January or February, you have six critical weeks of keeping them alive and not letting them get smashed by their mothers until they are weaned.

Even if you choose to skip raising your own show stock and purchase them at a sale, you still have to meet the next challenge of selecting the best animals available and feeding the right nutrients to create muscle tone.

The best female hogs will have hour-glass shapes from their shoulders to hips. In the males, an Arnold Schwarzenegger appearance is desired by the judges in the show arena.

Then, there is the domestication process.

Swine are the only show animals in which the exhibitor does not have the advantage of a halter, rope or the ability to physically handle the animal.

A hog showman has two items at his disposal in the show arena. The first is a show stick, roughly two or three feet long, to drive the hog, but the stick should rarely touch the animal. Second is a brush to clean the snout, should your hog decide to root.

The only way I knew to tame a hog was to get up early and walk behind the animal to get it used to your presence.

Hogs only have sweat glands on their snouts, which is why they roll in the mud to cool off. Hence, training is best done in the coolest part of the day.

Many mornings at my house, my parents would remind me that if I didn't walk the pigs they would be wild and run in the arena.

In the show arena, the goal of a showman is to keep the animal in a prime location to be judged, roughly 12-15 feet in front of the decider.

There is nothing like trying to guide a four-legged beast with a mind of its own in a packed arena while keeping one eye on your animal, one eye on the judge's position and one eye on the other animals and showmen in the ring to prevent a collision.

There are other aspects to showing that most never see.

You haven't lived until you have tried to scrub clean the dirty knees of a 250-pound white hog in a 3-foot-by-3-foot pen.

Exhibiting any animal is more than just showing up.

Fairs are the culmination of applied knowledge, meeting practical application, while teaching responsibility, developing a competitive spirit and rewarding hard work.

We understand that an all-star athlete doesn't just magically show up on game day and be dominant. There are countless hours of training and preparation that go into their development.

The same is true for those who exhibit at the fair.

In my completely biased opinion, I will continue to lobby that these exhibitors and their results be placed on the sports page.

In the meantime, I'll see you at the fair.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or at 417-847-2610.

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