The subtle techniques of fair showing

jtarica@thetribunenews.comJuly 28, 2012 

The past couple of weeks have seen us immersed in all the glory that is the Mid-State Fair.

It’s the first year both kids have been involved in multiple 4-H projects, which means a lot of running to and fro, schlepping small dump truck loads of all the supplies it takes to survive a day in the livestock-showing area: food, foldable chairs, cameras, reading material to pass the hours between one event and the next, more food and all the assorted pieces of the 4-H uniform.

Memo to the 4-H grand board of governors: Enough with the white-on-white scheme. The shirt’s OK, but wouldn’t a simple pair of blue jeans suffice?

Nobody wears white jeans for anything, which makes the last weekend before the fair a mad scramble to find a pair on the open market, with scores of kids and parents swapping desperately like day traders in an attempt to find something close to the right size.

I’m convinced no new white jeans are even being manufactured anymore.

There’s just one big pool of rotating used clothes, and if you happen to get ahold of a pair that doesn’t require a rubber band to expand the waist, it’s like winning the lottery.

Fortunately, we were able to acquire a couple that were only mildly too small, so off we went to begin a flurry of events showing horses, chickens and dogs while getting a crash course in all the wonderful life lessons that make up 4-H at the fair.

Like, it is possible to compete in two near-simultaneous events on the same day, as long as you can change outfits in 90 seconds.

And it’s more than likely that some unforeseen problem will thwart a triumph in one event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come back and shine in another.

It was a learning experience for all.

Horses and chickens were up first, and after watching both, I have to say it’s a close competition as to which is the dumber animal.

At the equestrian arena, Little Miss Seventh-Grader won an armful of ribbons, but she missed out on a sure first place when her horse — spooked by a door opening 50 yards off in the distance — hit the brakes before going over a jump.

After repeatedly circling around, she finally convinced the animal it was safe to continue and that in fact there was not a mountain lion about to leap from the bleachers onto its back.

Dumb horse. But this was not a new lesson for us, as it seems to happen in just about every other show she enters.

After competing in her slate of riding events, the girl then dashed off to the chicken-showing area, changing out of her horse gear like Superman in a phone booth, without a moment to spare before missing her group.

This is a fun competition and much less demanding than beef or swine, which require practically living at the fair for the better part of a week.

You bring your chicken in, you do your thing, you bring your chicken home.

Being in the primary class, Mr. Big Fourth-Grader had spent the morning putting his leggy bird through its paces. He wasn’t old enough to fully compete for showmanship, but his quirky-looking bantam with stems like a supermodel managed to take first for its breed.

First out of three, but first nonetheless.

The girl’s bird, a rust-colored pullet named Bijou who loves olallieberries, actually did quite well in her first show, earning a fifth-place ribbon in showmanship out of 10 or 12 competitors.

The most amusing thing about this event is watching all the kids tapping away at the chickens with their sticks in an attempt to coax them into marching across the table properly.

You can lead a chicken to the show, but you can’t make it walk.

We wrapped up our animal showing with the 4-H dog event a few days later, on what ended up being the hottest day of this year’s run, with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees.

Here, our not-so-smart dog — led by the boy — way outdid herself, finding her way to the top of her showmanship group, while our too-smart-for-his-own-good dog — led by the girl — pulled a comeback for the ages, going from eighth place in showmanship to first place in obedience.

For Little Miss Seventh-Grader, this was a nice way to wrap up her fair responsibilities, and she went from flustered and red-faced after the horse-jumping debacle, to beaming over a blue ribbon.

Watching the event and the others, though, I’m not entirely sure what significant differences these judges see.

Ten kids told their dogs to stay, and at least eight stayed pretty well. I guess it’s all about subtle technique.

Despite all of the new experiences, however, the most lasting life skill acquired at the fair came at the end of the first day, when Mr. Big Fourth-Grader emerged from the restroom with a bit of wisdom to share.

“I learned a valuable lesson,” he said holding up the slightly damp end of his overly long green 4-H tie. “When you use the uniral (his word for “urinal”) and you have a tie on, …”

Yeah, it’s definitely all about technique.

Some less subtle than others.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at

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