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Leading the Way: 6 little details that make a big difference in dairy showmanship contests

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairy Published on 19 July 2019

County and state fair season is upon us, and we don’t want you to miss winning a showmanship class on minor, yet important, details. Here are six tips to help you catch the competitive edge and win the banner in your showmanship division.

1. Hold the halter correctly. Get the halter on and fitted so the nose band is halfway between the eyes and the nostrils for maximum control. Wrap your left hand around the chain and make a fist. Carefully roll the strap into a neat, yet not too tight, roll. Place the roll over your thumb in your left hand.



Use your right hand to pull throat or to place on the heifer’s shoulder if needed. This will give your heifer a very clean and neat appearance through her head and neck. Keep the chain comfortably tight around the heifer’s chin. If it gets loose, tighten it so the halter doesn’t pull off.

Do: Roll the strap into a neat, yet not too tight, roll. Place the roll over your thumb in your left hand (Photo 1).

Hold the halter correctly

Do: Fit the halter so the nose band is halfway between the eyes and the nostrils (Photo 2).

Do fit the halter so the nose band is halfway between the eyes and the nostrils


Do not: Roll the strap around your left hand; rather roll it and hold it with your thumb.

Do not: Put the strap through the metal piece of the chain (Photo 3). Remember, the strap is long for a reason.

Do not put the strap through the metal piece of the chain

Do not: Let the strap hang down in a casual manner (Photo 4). If it is too much for you to hang on to, fold the strap in half and keep it neat. This is especially true for younger showmen.

Do not let the strap hang in a casual manner

2. Walk straight forward into the show ring. Don’t walk sideways or cross your feet (Photo 5).


Don't walk sideways or cross your feet

3. Move at an efficient pace around the show ring. This means you are not walking slowly. Be sure to leave 5 feet of space from the heifer in front of you and 5 feet of space from the outside of the ring. If you’re the first one in the ring, don’t get too far ahead of everyone else; the judge can’t compare you if you’re all alone ahead of everyone else.

There are three goals of entering the ring at this pace:

  • Make a good first impression. Everything you do in life requires a first impression, so learning to do that well in the show ring is important.

  • The judge wants to start judging in a timely manner; getting into the ring in a short amount of time should be your goal so everyone is in and ready to move to the next portion of the judging.

  • This is one of the criteria on the scorecard; earn points by setting the pace.

4. Walk in sync with your heifer. This goes back to some of the ideas we’ve covered before: Practice makes perfect. Think of it as you’re escorting a lady, and she catches the judge’s eye. What this means is: As your heifer steps with her front left foot, you step with your left foot, and when she steps with her right foot, so do you. This applies whether you are walking forward or backward.

The exhibitors shown here are both walking correctly (Photos 6 and 7).

Walk in sync with your heifer

Walk in sync with your heifer

5. Stand up straight. When you possess “the look,” it’s hard for a judge to not notice you. When leading, stay out in front of your heifer at a comfortable arm’s length. This will take some practice at home for both you and your heifer. When you stop and set your heifer up, finish the process by standing up straight and presenting your heifer to the judge. Ideally, the judge wants to see a silhouette of your heifer.

Photo 8 displays an undesirable stance for an exhibitor that flatters neither the showman or the heifer, while Photo 9 shows good posture and positioning.

This is a undesirable stance for an exhibitor

This shows good posture and positioning

6. Always have your heifer looking her best, even before you get to the ring. One rule of thumb we teach is: As soon as your heifer leaves the pack, keep her head up, keep her legs underneath her, and keep her looking good. There are several reasons for this.

  • You never know who may want to purchase an animal and, by keeping her looking good, you may have a potential sale.

  • The judge for the next show may have an opportunity to see her; make that opportunity your advantage. More than once I’ve seen an animal or a showman not looking great, and the impression has stuck with me the next time out.

  • There are photographers everywhere. In these days of social media and reporting by breed organizations and magazines, you want your animal and yourself to look good at all times. I recently saw a picture on social media of a winning heifer and wondered how she could be the winner because the exhibitor wasn’t doing their best to show her off, and that’s the picture that was posted.

Committing to these tips just might be the difference it takes to bring home a blue ribbon in showmanship. Best wishes for the upcoming show season.  end mark

Katie Coyne
  • Katie Coyne

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  • Mill Wheel Dairy Show Clinics
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