To The Last First Steps In The Ring
Mid-May, I will be taking my last first steps into the place where I grew up in, learned the most from, and where the dedication to my livestock projects were shown: the show ring. To all those last year livestock exhibitors not ready for those last first steps, here are a couple things to look back on.
1. Hours spent driving across your home state or cross country.
This was always the worst part, especially if it meant driving clear across Ohio, or from Ohio to Colorado and back plus an ice storm to track and beat on your way home from the National Western Stock Show. But those hours were spent riding shotgun, sleeping in the backseat, jamming out with your dad, bickering with your siblings, talking about the schedule for the upcoming shows and circuit, and getting life lectures from your parents. Honestly, I regret sleeping so much on the way to shows whether it meant getting relatively no sleep on the way to the show and back. I regret it because you only have so long in your time showing livestock as a junior member to talk to your dad or mom about your life, about your future, about livestock and everything in between. Now that it’s my last year, it’s hard to grasp that emotion of not being able to do this next year with a trailer hitched to the back of the truck that has seen almost every show for the past five or more years. So this last year, stay awake, talk to your dad about school, tell your mom your future plans, bicker with your siblings a little bit more because this time next year won’t feel the same.
2. Late nights spent in the barn.
I remember spending nights out in the barn with my dad clipping steers until three in the morning, working lambs almost every day for a good chunk of time while my dad coaches me at ten at night, and even clipping lambs before the day of the show until midnight. However, I don’t think I would trade those nights for anything. My dad and I bicker, we get mad at each other, sometimes we just don’t talk at all when we’re in the barn. I get it, it happens but this time next year, that won’t happen. My dad and I won’t have those silent treatments anymore. No more midnight clipping excursions. No more looking at that perfect lamb on a stand while your dad clips it legs at midnight for a show the next day. By this time next year, you’ll miss those late nights in the barn.
3. Friends made outside the ring.
We ALL have friends on the circuit, whether they are a year or two older or younger than us. They are probably your biggest supporters (excluding your parents, that is), your “Can you show my lamb for me in class 12? I have two lambs in that class” friend, your “Can you run back to the trailer and grab the ProPink and the Weaver slicker brush in the showbox?,” friend, or even your “Hey, go up to the ring and get class numbers” friend. Funny thing, you’ll do the same thing for them because that’s just what livestock friends do. We help each other out when help is needed, we make sure someone brings no-bake’s to every show, and we make sure someone is in charge of bringing the grill, burgers or pork loin chops for lunch. Shout out to Justin Parke and Dakota Dunlap for being those people. A couple years down the road, we will all be done showing animals. We’ll be taking other kids to different shows on the circuit teaching them the ways just like someone did for you. You’ll miss those days.
4. “Help the next one in line, always stay humble and kind.”
So this is your last year. You have no idea how many younger showmen look up to you. They watch you when you least expect it. To be completely honest, they watch your every move. They see how you treat your animals, they see how well you compete in the ring, they see how you act when you come out of the ring placing lower than what you expected, but one day they will ask for your help. We are the generation to help the next one in line, so always stay humble and kind.
5. Scouting for the perfect animal.
This means watching sales on Show Stock Planet, Willoughby, and Breeders World (also all tabbed on my computer for easy access). This also means contacting breeders in your own state or maybe a couple states away just to see the lambs in person, and making those extra connections are getting more important these days. But who drove majority of those times or wanted to go with? For me, it was always my dad. We always love driving to different places, sorting lambs and trying our hardest to find the best deal. Sure, you might be scouting this time next year, but it probably won’t be for the same reason.
6. But don’t forget who got you started
Who got you your start doing what you love most? I could make a list a mile long who got me my start in showing livestock and it keeps growing every year. You may think you have gotten where you are because of your hard work, dedication, and everything in between. The harsh reality is that you didn’t. Look what your parents did for you, your grandparents, your community, other breeders in the area or maybe even in the next state over. Your hard work and dedication made you a better person and, probably in the long run, made you better in the show ring, but your parents and others who wanted to see you succeed were the ones who helped you the most. So the next time you see them, thank them for all they've done for you or send them a letter in the mail. It will mean more to them than anything.
When it's your last year, you'll cry. Maybe some of you won’t because you think you’re too tough to cry. I got news for you, pal, you’re going to cry. May only be a tear, and it may be this time next year that you start missing what you loved most but won’t realize it until it’s all said and done. You don’t have to win everything to miss livestock. You don’t have to have a lot of money to miss livestock. In ten years, no one is going to remember who won what show, or who went out and spent the most money. What they will remember is what you gave back to the next generation, the legacy you left behind for others. Tim McGraw said it best. “Don't take for granted the love this life gives you. When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around. And help the next one in line, always stay humble and kind.”