04/12/10 — Workin' it goes hog wild

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Workin' it goes hog wild

By Laura Collins
Published in News on April 12, 2010 1:46 PM

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Reporter Laura Collins tries her hand at showing market hogs with the help of her coach, Jacob Sauls, left, at the 62nd annual Wayne County Junior Livestock Show and Sale Thursday.

The Job: Showing hogs

The Company: Wayne County Junior Livestock Show and Sale

The Location: Wayne County Fair Grounds

Never again.

I've done a lot of jobs in this county: I pumped septic tanks, I picked tobacco, I even skinned a squirrel. All of which I said I would do again if I needed to. But not this job.

On Thursday I succumbed to the pressure and agreed to show a hog at the annual Junior Livestock Show and Sale. Extension Agent Eileen Coite said it would be fun. She has a sweet face and a trusting southern drawl, so I believed her.

Going into it, I knew this job was outside of my comfort zone -- so far outside, my comfort zone was barely still visible on the map. Not only had I never met a live hog before, I also don't particularly enjoy being in front of a large group of people and until that morning I had no idea what "showing a hog" actually meant.

For those of you who don't know, it involves somehow making a 200-plus pound hog walk next to you while judges evaluate it. Instead of being on a leash, which I would have preferred, the exhibitor is only able to use what looks like a long paint brush, tapping the hog on either side of the head, to keep it near.

My coach was 12-year-old Jacob Sauls. He had won first place earlier in the day showing his hog. His advice sounded simple enough.

"Keep the pig between you and the judges. Make eye contact with the judges so you know where they are at all times. Hit her (the hog) in the jowls to keep her moving and next to you. Don't run after the pig if she gets away from you," he said.

When I walked up to the pens holding the hogs, all of them were sleeping. All except one, that is. Heather, a 270-pound gilt, was excitedly ripping a towel to shreds. Without even being told, I knew that she was my hog. I started having doubts that the small whip would be able to keep her in line. I asked if a bat was allowed. That was shot down, but Jacob gave me his show cane to use.

There were six of us that would be showing hogs. The youngest exhibitor was three years old and seemed to be perfectly calm.

"Any chance I can get stampeded out there?" I asked Jacob.

"Probably not," he said.

And then it was time. I was listening for my name to be called so I could enter the ring. I was panicking. My heart was racing and I was definitely sweating, though I hadn't moved an inch, since that would involve me getting closer to Heather, who I renamed "Terror" in my head. Earlier in the day a 5-year-old girl started crying before it was her turn to show her hog. I was very close to becoming a 26-year-old version of her.

"And now we have Laura Collins," said Coite, who was the event announcer. "She came prepared in her pink rain boots ... And boy does she look scared."

This is when time stopped. I'm told I was only out there for two minutes. It felt like 14 hours. During those 14 hours, I occasionally heard Jacob above the sound of my pulse. He spoke softly, but had an urgency in his tone, which of course, led to more panicking on my part.

"To drive her, you have to hit her harder. Try not to let her eat dirt, you have to keep her moving. Switch to the other side."

I think the most unnerving part was when I got pinned to the fence by two of the massive hogs, one of which was Terror/Heather, who I was doing a poor job of controlling. Luckily, Jacob stepped in, took the cane, shoved the hogs away and handed the cane back to me with a smile.

At the end of the 14 hours (two minutes), the competition concluded, and I won first place. Granted, we all won first place ribbons, but it still counts. Jacob was like a proud parent and for a second I thought maybe it didn't go as bad as I thought.

"You did everything right," Jacob said. I was beaming. Then he added, "Except maybe hit her harder next time, and you didn't keep your eye on the judges. And you need to stay away from the fence."

I was also told that I shouldn't have been chewing gum because it's distracting to the judges.

All in all, I'm glad I did it. Once. I'm amazed that nearly 30 children showed hogs on Thursday, all infinitely better at it than I was. They looked like pros -- calm, collected and not at all nervous about their hog's size. I'd like to say it's because they all had normal hogs and I had Terror/Heather. But, in fact, that's the same hog Jacob won first place with. So I am gracefully bowing out of the hog showing business.