Routt County Fair champs in sheep showmanship cool as the other side of the fleece
August 17, 2017
The winners of the sheep showmanship classes at the Routt County Fair in Hayden Aug. 17 all had something in common — they were cool, calm and collected, and so were their animals.
Remarkably, it was the first time senior showmanship winner Rachel Rolando, 17, of Hayden, had showed her own sheep at the county fair. She explained that, more often, she shows goats, and sometimes, other peoples' goats. Transferring what she's learned about presenting goats in the show ring, however, transfers well to sheep.
"It's the only thing I do," Rolando said. "I work at it. Some kids play sports hardcore; I do goats.”
The secret to her success in show rings — from Grand Island, Nebraska, to Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — has been remaining calm at all times so the animal picks up on it and remains calm, as well.
And what is the judge looking for? They like to see lambs that stretch out well and stand tall, with their heads cradled firmly in their trainers' forearms without a struggle.
The real secret to making the right impression on the judge?
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"You have to have that look when you come into the ring," not arrogant, but confident, Rolando said. "First impressions mean a lot."
Winner of the intermediate showmanship class, MacKinley Parker, 14, of Yampa, said her family has 13 ewes on their ranch and averages 25 lambs every spring, leaving plenty for her and her sisters to choose from.
Her strategy for success in the show ring involves sending a nonverbal message to her sheep.
"I scratch the back of their necks," she said. "It calms them down and lets them know it's me."
Parker is multi-talented; she was also grand champion at the fair for leather working, using skills she learned from her grandfather to make a hand-tooled pattern of flower blossoms for the seat of an antique stool.
Finally, Larhae Whaley, 11, of Yampa, won the junior sheep showmanship. She comes from a long lineage of showmen and women at the fair, and her family sells lamb chops through the Whaley Lamb Company.
One might think that would put pressure on Larhae, but far from it. She collected first place Thursday, in spite of the fact that her top show animal cut its leg only two weeks before the fair, forcing her to enter a backup animal. She appeared to be unfazed.
Whaley said the process of developing championship lambs never ends, but her mother added she'll find time to try out for running back on the middle school football team this fall and probably pursue wrestling throughout the winter.
Between homework, school sports and ranch chores, Whaley will be looking ahead to the 2018 Routt County Fair by working with multiple animals, seeking one that's "staging" just right. In the end, though, it might come down to personality.
"I like the one that's gentler than all the others," she said.