Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 5-7-12
May 7, 2012
For country kids in small communities across America, raising an animal for the local stock show is an important project. Lots of parents help with the feeding, walking and trimming of the animals for these shows. Some over zealous parents basically do all the work, thereby cheating their kids out of the life lessons stock shows were meant to teach – like personal responsibility, hard work, and tenacity.
For the past several years, our children have raised and shown Boer goats. They are small enough for younger kids to handle and can eventually be tamed enough to lead with a collar. I say “eventually” because it requires a lot of time and patience to get that done.
Working with the goats can be fairly frustrating. Either the goat balks and won’t walk at all, or takes off like a scalded rabbit, jerking the chain collar right of the kids’ hands. Balking is fairly easy to cure. A quick twist of the tail is enough to get the goat moving, albeit not at a very even pace. The hasty take-off is a little harder to prevent. If that happens and the kid hangs on, the collar cinches around the goat’s neck, and it starts coughing or bawling. Although it’s uncomfortable, the pain doesn’t usually stop it. Another rude behavior in show goats is raring up. That can twist a kid’s fingers or wrist or allow it to butt the kid in the thigh or stomach.
My husband and I have never done the lion’s share of the work necessary to raise a winning animal because that would defeat the purpose of the project. Most of the time, our kids have placed well, even winning an occasional grand championship. They raise their animal, feed it, train it and groom it to show. Afterwards, they can be proud of themselves, because they’re the ones who did all the work.
Sometimes they’ve conned their naïve friends into helping them walk the goats. One chilly afternoon, my 10-year-old son brought a friend home for the weekend. That year, he was showing two goats. He generously offered his friend the rare and wonderful opportunity to walk one of them. His friend had never shown a goat. Instead, he showed hogs which don’t have to be trained to lead.
Since the goats had been worked for several weeks, they were not quite as wild as deer. Both boys went out to walk the goats. On the way to the pen, my son coached his friend. He told him, “No matter what happens, don’t let go! If you do, the goat will learn that it can get its own way.”
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As they walked the goats out the gate, I watched through the kitchen window. Suddenly, the friend’s goat started galloping down the dirt road full tilt. For a while, he kept up with her. When she got back to the gate, she turned sharply. The kid tripped and fell but held on tight. He really had a “death grip” on her. Even after he fell, the goat kept running. She ran through several clumps of yuccas, over large rocks, stickers and small cactus, dragging that determined 10-year-old boy behind her all the way. That crazy goat finally got enough of dragging the heavy weight and stopped abruptly, which took the pressure off her throat.
My son watched the whole thing with great amusement, knowing that he had given his friend the wilder of the two goats. It looked pretty scary from my vantage point so I ran out the back door to give them a hand. I would have hated to have to bring that boy home, bandaged from head to toe; or worse, to have to call his mother from the emergency room.
My son’s friend was scratched and bruised but otherwise alright. He stood up laughing, dusting the caliche powder off his jeans. “You told me not to let go and I didn’t!”
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “That’s one tough little kid.” He showed me that day and many days since then, the kind of perseverance that makes a winner. He exemplifies the rugged determination that stock shows and other youth projects are designed to cultivate. I hope my own kids are learning those lessons as well as their friend.