“Hey,” she said at our monthly card club get-together last September. “I think we should all enter the adult dairy showmanship contest at next year’s Canfield Fair. It’d be fun!”
Lori’s one of the quiet ones. You know, the ones you need to watch out for. I should’ve known then.
There are six of us in card club, which our husbands dubbed the “Snack ‘N Yak” club because we don’t play cards. Just talk. And eat M&Ms.
Four of the ladies had entered the showmanship class in 2011. “It’s just for fun,” they said. Now, they thought we should make it a card club activity, a grand idea for them — they all show cows (even Yvonne Bennett gets pressed into duty for the group classes by her sister, Dianne Shoemaker). Me, I’ve never shown a cow in my life. (I know, isn’t that part of a rite of passage for a farm editor?)
In October, on our annual weekend outing, we found ourselves in a T-shirt store.
“Hey! We could all get different colored M&M T-shirts for the showmanship contest.”
Shoot! Just when I thought maybe they’d forgotten all about it, this time it was Lori’s sister Jane — equally as quiet — stirring the pot.
So we picked out our shirts and I shoved mine in the back of my closet.
Fast forward 10 months. Labor Day morning, the text came from Jane. “Showmanship is at 11 a.m. We decided to wear jeans. No whites.” Drat! I thought maybe they’d forgotten about it. I had visions of a monster Holstein dragging me across the ring.
Nearing the Canfield Fair dairy barns, I spied fair board director and longtime cow man Howard Moff. Perfect!
“Howard, what do I need to know about showmanship, besides always looking at the judge?” (I mean, give me some credit, I did pick up a couple things at all the shows I’ve covered in my day.)
“Well, don’t use your feet to try and set up the cow, just tug the halter. And are you showing a heifer or a cow, because you set up their feet differently facing the judge.”
I didn’t know what my cow mates were going to hand me ringside, but I hoped it was the smallest, most docile Jersey on the grounds. Emphasis on small and docile.
So I asked Lori’s husband, Greg. “I don’t know what you’re showing, but you’re going to be in a different age class than the others,” he said, rather too gleefully for my taste.
Then I saw Fred Hippely. He’ll take pity on me, I thought.
“Fred, what do I need to know?”
“Just hold on!”
Um, gee thanks, Fred.
Rumor on the street (well, in the arena) was that last year’s winner, Todd Bricker, was judging, so I did what every red-blooded competitive American would do. I sidled up to Todd and said, “So, how’s it goin’? Any chance I could slip you some chocolate or M&Ms or something?”
He didn’t even grin. Was actually rather icy, now that I think about it. “This isn’t going to be easy, you know.”
Ringside, we watched the first age class for those just out of 4-H age up through 35. Wait a minute, the class had at least 47 cows in it, and some participants were wearing show whites. What ever happened to “this is just a fun show?”
The Shoemakers set me up with 6-year-old #730. She’s an Excellent 91 (which for the non-dairy readers in the crowd means that she is a really good cow). Surely, that would be enough to place in the class, I thought. It’s all about the cow, right? Except in showmanship, it’s all about the show-er, not the show-ee.
I’m really toast.
I memorized her birth date, her sire, date she last freshened, what she ate for breakfast that morning — all the fun stuff a showmanship judge sometimes asks — and started around the ring.
Then, I saw Dennis Musser of Den-Be Farm, Enon Valley, Pa., immediately in front of me in the ring-around-the-rosy showing circle. He looked back at me and started trash talking.
“Crowell? What are you doing here? You’re goin’ down!” he taunted, looking at Bricker across the ring all the while.
I tuned him out. I was one with #730. Me and her? We were in the zone, focused on Bricker. No matter that the whole “set the feet” thing never really happened — my eyes never left the judge (and my cow didn’t drag me across the ring). I was only half toast.
I didn’t place in the chocolate (they didn’t give out ribbons), but I wasn’t at the bottom of the class either. Most of all, I didn’t embarrass my card club mates.
John Winchell ended up winning the overall championship, and the rotating engraved ice cream maker bucket trophy. He told me it meant a lot to him and he plans to try for a repeat next year.
Hmmm. Maybe if I wore show whites…