The judge is the center of the show ring.
Exhibitors are expected to show their animals to the best of their ability around the judge, who then ranks them in order of who he or she feels performed the best that night.
Wednesday evening, the judge of the steer showmanship show at the Manatee County Fair was Rick Ahrens. An agriculture teacher at Hernando High School, Ahrens sees the role of judge as an opportunity to teach the exhibitors who come before him.
“I don’t run away after the show. ... I’m a teacher and all about making these kids better,” Ahrens said at the start of the show.
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True to his word, he stayed after the final class to give notes to exhibitors from earlier in the evening, providing feedback on ways to improve and what was done well.
He complimented the showmen and showwomen throughout the night, noting that when a judge has to get down to “nit-picky things,” it speaks volumes of the exhibitors and those who have helped them along the way.
Junior class first-place winner, 10-year-old Jacob McKendree, has worked with his steer, Smokey, for nearly a year and has watched him grow from 686 pounds to now weighing in at 1,336.
McKendree credits his personality and Smokey for bringing home the blue ribbon.
During the junior class, Ahrens told members of the crowd what they may not realize is these kids are in the barn for hours, working with animals that often weigh over 1,000 pounds and they both become familiar with their surroundings. Then, he said, we bring them here.
“It isn’t won out here it’s won at the farm or in school or where ever you have your animal,” Ahrens said.
Many in the show circuit say “on any given day,” and in many cases it’s true. On any given day the steer, swine, chicken, goat or horse can behave like a dream, and the class goes exactly the way it should. Other days, all the planning in the world couldn’t create the perfect day and produce a blue ribbon. On Wednesday, one steer got away from it’s junior class exhibitor, but no one was injured, and the show went on.
But for Haley Yancey, Wednesday night was best-case scenario. Yancey took home first place in the senior division of Wednesday’s steer showmanship event.
She’s only had her steer for about a year, but together they caught the judge’s eye out of 14 competitors in the championship class and 39 total seniors.
“It just shows how much I’ve worked over the past years,” Yancey said of her win.
What put her over the top is evidence of that hard work.
“Never giving up and just not slouching down, and just standing straight,” Yancey said.
But the win is an emphasis for more than just the blue ribbon, it’s her final year to show at the fair. As expected, there are parts she will miss.
“Picking him out, and my friends of course. All the people I’ve met over the years,” Yancey said of what she’ll miss about the fair.
Anna Bunyak took home first place in the intermediate steer showmanship class.
A grand champion will be named at the steer show Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Mosaic Arena.