The Emotions and Stories in the Barns of the 2019 NC State Fair
I wish I could write and take photos good enough to show what showing livestock at the NC State Fair means to me. I wish I could make you feel what my heart feels when I’m in the barn. I wish you could see how certain moments will forever be imprinted in my mind and heart. There are so many moments after nearly two decades showing at the fair, but I’ll settle for just the emotions from the 2019 NC State Fair. While I know no amount of words or photos will truly relay what is in my heart, I’ll try.
So, here’s a recap of the 2019 NC State Fair. This recap won’t focus on all the details, but rather snapshots that capture a special memory or emotion for me. It is meant to be a collection of stories and a window into my heart.
It Starts at Home
Prep for the NC State Fair begins long before the show. It begins with long hours of feeding, grooming, and practicing at home. I’ve always been Coach Risa, but since moving to Nebraska, that role hasn’t quite been the same. I’ll still get a text or call from the boys with a question about feed or practicing, but largely, they are doing it solo these days. Do you know the pride I have for these two when I get home and see all they have accomplished with their pigs? They fill me in on all the details and show me how they can load their pigs on the trailer in the middle of the yard without cutting boards. We don’t even have to go the fair. They're already winners to me.
Mom has never missed a NC State Fair Show. She rarely even misses a circuit show. This year was the first State Fair mom missed. Papa was sick, and Mom needed to be at home to administer his IV antibiotics (Mom’s a nurse, you see). So, the four of us made do. Dad and I snapped photos and texted all the updates we could. The day went smoothly, but it still wasn’t the same without Mom.
Behind the Scenes
I think that the most common photos at a livestock show are of those in the ring. Those aren’t my favorite, though. It’s the behind the scene shots. The shots of teamwork, hard work, and camaraderie. Show ring photos are cool, but I prefer the grit of the BTS to the glam of the ring shots. They end up being the ones that capture the most emotion, and the ones I’m most proud of.
The community that livestock shows create is one of the most profound that I’ve ever experienced. The competition that you’d think would divide, instead bonds. We support one another. We cheer for one another. And like other families, we have disagreements sometimes too. I’m so thankful that the boys are experiencing livestock friends and community the way I did and still do.
When You’re On You’re On
If we are talking emotions, they run the highest when showmanship rolls around. The boys work so hard all season, and this is the grand finale. They were both nervous, which only makes me doubly nervous. Making the cut is our goal, and all the rest is icing. Despite Isaac’s pig getting stuck in a corner and being ornery, both boys made the cut. They fought so hard and showed so well. Me? I couldn’t breathe. My nerves were shot per usual. Then, Gid got the handshake for Reserve Champion Junior Showman! My heart soared and plummeted in the same moment. I was so proud of Gid. He didn’t take a wrong step and was on, and when he’s on, he’s on. My heart broke for Isaac, though. He had put so much pressure on himself and wanted this badly. Truth be told, Isaac is more passionate about livestock than Gideon, so it hits a little harder. It was the same with Alec and I. Alec, like Gideon, had more natural showmanship pizzazz. Isaac and I have to work a bit harder. So, if there’s ever been such a paradox in emotions, that was it—bursting with excitement and plummeting with sadness. These warring emotions were overpowered, though, by one single strong emotion of pride. My brothers did a dang good job and are incredible kids.
Head Deep in Sheep
19 sheep, and they all had to be fitted and washed. We didn’t have many days and they were calling for rain for most of them. That couldn’t stop us, though. Gideon put a swimming suit on, and we all went to work. The following photos make me smile and completely encompass us being head deep in sheep. The faces (sheep and people alike), the water, the mud, the manure, the outfits. It’s messy, but we’re doing our thing.
Isaac’s Silly Faces
He’s a goober. He calls me heifer. He has 0 filters, but a thousand faces.
Papa’s treatments finished in time for Mom to be able to come to the sheep show and the smile on her face tells you all you need to know. She was back, taking pictures, cheering us on, and keeping us all on track.
Who knows what we are saying, but family huddles, are my favorite. This is a family affair. Always has been. Always will be. Sheep. Family. Passion.
1 & 2
I always feel guilty praying for a win, but I still do it. I’m okay if it doesn’t happen, but I pray nonetheless. If you stood really close to me during sheep showmanship, you’d have heard me whisper “please, please, please” and then when it came down to the top showman, you could hear, “1 &2, 1&2, 1&2.” Then, it was 1&2. Isaac won Grand Champion Showman and Gideon won Reserve. I cried and screamed. The rest of the day didn’t even matter.
They may not always see eye to eye, but they stand together always when it comes to cheering us kids on. The first photo is one of my favorites. I can just feel the nerves and pride and love. Mom and Dad have sacrificed so much for us to show livestock and have the experiences we have. They pay an awful lot of feed bills, and while we don’t say it enough, we can’t thank them enough. They’ve provided more than a hobby; they’ve provided a passion, a career, a community, and so many life lessons by giving us the opportunity to show livestock.
In case anyone’s wondering, I still have an RBF while showing. I guess at 26, I still haven’t mastered masking it. Ooops.
Ring talk is some of the best talk. Garrett and I used to do it when we were showing together. The boys do it now (they claim they were talking about setting the sheep’s feet up). Heck, I still do it all the time. A funny joke, word of encouragement, clarifying question, friendly teasing…ring talk just makes the ring more fun.
Isaac and Sassa
Sassa is the daughter of Isaac’s special Astrid sheep. He loves his Icelandic crosses, but to be honest, I never know what to do with them. I don’t dislike their wool, but it’s different. It never sways Isaac, though, and this year, he got to say “told you so” when Sassa won first place in her class and Reserve Champion Dual Coated Ewe! I was so happy for Isaac! I also ate some crow.
All the Emotions
We showed for 10 hours straight and were feeling all the emotions towards the end. This photo captures it all: family, livestock, exhaustion, frustration, smiles, nerves, the fair and showing.
Emotions from the Sidelines
I’ve touched on it before, but the emotions of being on the sidelines, watching your favorite people in the ring, is intense. You’re nervous and excited. You want to close your eyes, but can’t look away. You wish they had a bug in their ear so you could give them pointers. You pray…a lot. Mostly, you just have trouble breathing.
Until Next Year
Livestock shows, especially at the NC State Fair are filled with so many emotions. When it all comes to an end, though, we are left with both disappointment and relief that it’s over. Mostly, though, we feel a bit like this sheep—just whoa!
These photos aren’t all of them. These stories are not all that happened. They are just a glimpse into the barns at the State Fair and the emotions and stories within them. While this is just my family, it represents many others.