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Leading the Way: Four common sense aspects of showmanship

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairy Published on 15 September 2021
Exhibiting her animal

It’s been 10 years since the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (PDCA) in the U.S. looked to Canada and Europe to standardize showmanship rules and guidelines that utilized a “common sense” approach to making animals look their best in the show ring.

Youth and youth leaders across the country have appreciated the standardization but continue to struggle to find continuity in the show ring.

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There really is no difference from a showmanship ring to a type or conformation ring – one is designed to enhance the other. Showmanship rules reflect what adult exhibitors do when they are showing, and they reflect common sense handling skills. We hope judges and exhibitors alike will focus on these four aspects at upcoming shows.

1. When animals are lined up, there is no need for the exhibitor to move the feet on calves and heifers once cattle are set up correctly

When showing at major shows, adult exhibitors get their animal into the line and set them up to look their best with front feet square and back feet slightly staggered. This keeps the topline up, squares the rump and makes the animal straight from nose to tailhead. Very few, if any, exhibitors move the feet as the judge goes from side to side. So why would we expect youth exhibitors to move the feet? The answer is: We shouldn’t. Judges should expect that youth will get feet and legs set up in ideal position. One of the main reasons for not moving feet as the judge goes from side to side is: There is a really good chance the heifer will move to a position that does not show her to her best advantage. Furthermore, there is no way for a judge to be able to evaluate the length of a heifer when she is not on the outside of the line, so there is no need to move feet.

2. The two animals on the end of the line set up with the outside leg back. Everyone else in line may set the feet of their heifer to look her best

This one is simple. There are two animals in line a judge can view completely – the one in first and the one in last. The purpose of having the leg back on the side toward the judge is so the heifer appears longer. It has nothing to do with showing udder promise, so it’s important those outside heifers have their outside leg back. This applies to any heifer in any show at any level. Oftentimes, when judging a show, a judge will make short lines of three to four exhibitors, testing their knowledge of this guideline – this is a great way to separate those experienced exhibitors in close placings. Again, once in line, the first and last person do not move the legs of their heifer.

3. The halter should all be held in the left hand with the strap neatly tucked up so nothing is hanging below the chin or above the eye. The throat should be pulled at the jaw, not under the chin

Maintain control of the heifer by holding the halter

This guideline also follows the adult exhibitor’s practice of holding the halter in the left hand so the right hand is free to touch the tail down, apply pressure to the front shoulder or for other assistance in presentation. This is a good habit to teach to children and youth right from the beginning of their show career. It is also important not to put a finger or thumb through the ring on the side of the halter, as this can cause serious injury if the heifer throws her head. Simply make a fist around the folded-over chain, make a loop in the strap, and place it on your thumb. This is a simple, neat and easy way to always have good control of your heifer. Many youth try to lead by pulling on the lead strap with their right hand, which creates a very tight chain under the chin of the heifer and can hurt the exhibitor’s hand as well. When purchasing show halters, look for a halter with a short chain and a thin, short strap so it can easily be held in one hand.

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4. Prepare – and then relax

If you put the time in month after month, week after week and day after day, when you get to the show, everything will fall into place. At home, lead your showmanship heifer for an hour after she has been tied with her head up, and she will be ready for a long morning of showing. When you get to the show, take your heifer to the show ring so she is acclimated to the area. Also, at the show, walk your heifer daily at a fast pace so she has a good amount of exercise prior to show day. On show day, wash, prepare her topline and let her rest. Rest means more than just letting her lie down. Once an animal lies down, leave them alone. Just like humans, a bovine doesn’t want anyone bothering them while they are resting.

In the ring, be smooth and steady. This will help your heifer stay calm and respond to your commands. Do not hit your heifer if she doesn’t move. This only causes her to further pull away. Walk your heifer into a setup: Begin by making sure the back legs are set correctly and then set the front feet square. First, try to get her to set them without using your feet; just let her walk into it naturally. As a judge, one of the hardest things to watch is a exhibitor trying to move front feet that don’t need to be moved.

A final word to showmanship judges: If you are judging a class and several people in the class look like they are experienced exhibitors and are exhibiting a practice you aren’t familiar with, such as not moving feet in line, ask them why. Chances are the youth are familiar with the 2011 standardization, which accents a common sense approach to showing, and will be excited that you would ask for their input. end mark

PHOTO 1: The ultimate goal of a dairy cattle exhibitor is to make the animal look its best, whether that’s in a showmanship or conformation class.

PHOTO 2: Maintain control of the heifer by holding the halter in the left hand so that the right hand is free to touch the tail down, apply pressure to the front shoulder or for other assistance in presentation. Photos provided by Katie Coyne.

Katie Coyne
  • Katie Coyne

  • Owner
  • Mill Wheel Dairy Show Clinics
  • Email Katie Coyne

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