10/02/11 — Showmen show hearts as big as their heifers

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Showmen show hearts as big as their heifers

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 2, 2011 1:50 AM

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Katherine Hassell works with her heifer Saturday during the Junior Beef Heifer Show at the Wayne Regional Fair. Judges said the bond with her animal was obvious in the ring.

Hannah Ferrell tried to keep her composure when her large, black heifer pinned her up against the gate.

She winced when the animal rammed its head, repeatedly, into her stomach.

And when the cow finally overpowered its handler -- and the girl tumbled to the ground -- Hannah, for a moment, broke down.

"That poor thing," said Jenna Templeton, a 67-year-old who travels from LaGrange to the fairgrounds every year to take in the shows. "I don't remember anything like that happening to me when I was a little girl. It's hard to watch, isn't it?"

But as judge Neil Bowman approached Hannah, she stood up straight and did her best to look like she was back in control.

This was, after all, a competition.

So she fought back tears when the man told her to keep her cool -- to not let a difficult heifer get the best of her.

And until the moment she left the ring and collected her ribbon, she did just that.

Dozens of children and teenagers from across the state arrived at the Wayne County Fairgrounds early Saturday morning to participate in the Junior Beef Heifer Show.

But they weren't the only ones working to secure a coveted blue ribbon.

Jeff Hinnant kept himself busy by grooming one of the animals his daughter, Joy Leigh, was getting ready to show.

And his hard work -- which included going over the animal's coat with a blower and a thorough brushing -- certainly seemed to have paid off when Joy Leigh was handed third place in Intermediate Showmanship.

Earning a place among the top three was quite an accomplishment.

In fact, Bowman said the girl's division was one of the most competitive he had ever seen.

"This was almost a clinic on how to present cattle," he said. "They are that good. They were that close."

And each handler had a ring presence reflective of experience far beyond their years.

Those who participated in the Senior Showmanship Division got some raves reviews of their own.

Bowman said that it was clear that Katherine Hassell had a special bond with her heifer.

"You can tell these two have some experience together in the ring," he said.

And Carlye McCoy and Avery Faulkner had "composure" and "ring presence" in their own right.

But for Jim Freeland, the "moment of the day" had nothing to do with prizes won and competitors bested.

For him, watching a particular little girl -- one who took first place in Intermediate Showmanship -- interact with her cow was the highlight.

"You can tell she respects that animal -- that she loves her," Freeland said, watching as Mason Blinson scratched her heifer under the neck. "Most kids these days don't respect nothing, so being out here is a nice change. You get to see the good in the up-and-comers -- the good in ones like that little thing right there."