Showmanship judges handlers, not animals

Erin Ballard

When 4-H competitions come to mind, most brains probably go straight to livestock.

But for the showmanship category, judges are watching the handlers, not the animals.

“You always want to show off the animal and keep eye contact with the judge,” Faith Wipf said. “You’ve got to have that control of them and be able to handle them without getting mad at them and having a wreck with another animal or even yourself.”

Wipf, 14, won the round robin in showmanship at last year’s Brown County Fair. That event includes the winner in each showmanship category — horse, dairy calf, beef calf, dairy goat, meat goat, sheep and pig. Those participants take whatever animal they won with into the round robin, and each contestant has to show each animal. So the challenge is working with non-familiar breeds.

“They’re looking at how well you can interact with having (other contestants’) animals,” she said. “You have to do your best at making that animal look good.”

Wipf qualified for round robin last year with her sheep before winning the entire showmanship category.

Some animals are excluded from the overall competition, though they still have individual showmanship categories. Chickens and rabbits aren’t included because those animals require a bit more knowledge and practice experience to handle.

Randy Woehl of Menno has been judging rabbit showmanship for almost 35 years, but this was his first go at the Brown County Fair.

“With pigs, for example, all you do is run the pork in front of the judge and make sure the judge can see it,” Woehl said. “With rabbits, it’s keeping them under control, but also pointing out the health problems that the rabbit has.”

There are 24 categories that are scored in rabbit showmanship. They include everything from nose drippings and jaw alignment — front teeth over bottom — to fur quality and toenails. Most of all, for rabbits, Woehl wants the participant to be knowledgeable.

That’s because showmanship is about the handler’s ability to understand the animal through and through, he said.

Grace Malsam, 17, has been doing showmanship for seven years, but said she still gets nervous at each presentation, including on Aug. 16 in front of Woehl.

She began by describing the health of her rabbit, Jenna, and showed off the animal’s ears, underbelly, teeth, paws and tail — spouting off most everything about Jenna’s demeanor and physical appearance.

Malsam ended up with a purple ribbon for her efforts, the highest possible.

“I do it for the experience,” she said. “I still get nervous, but I love it.”

Showmanship is sometimes overlooked in 4-H, but it’s incredibly important as it shows just who can deal with animals in the appropriate way.

Wipf, for one, is proud of her achievements in the category. This year she won reserve — second place — with her sheep.

“It just means I know how to present an animal well and know how to control them well,” she said. “Even if they’re not my animal, I can still connect with them and know if they’re going to move or what they’re going to go.”

Grace Malsam shows her rabbit, Jenna, to Randy Woehl, a showmanship judge at the Brown County Fair. American News photo by Erin Ballard
Faith Wipf participates in showmanship competitions each year at the Brown County Fair. American News photo by Erin Ballard
Randy Woehl of Menno, right, judges a rabbit entry Friday at the Brown County Fair. American News photo by John Davis

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Holum Expo Building Addition.