“Nothing worth having comes easy.”
I’ve spent the past couple weekends at the Great Indiana State Fair. Now, I’ve shown livestock for fourteen years, and my brother is currently showing his eighth year of 4H, so the majority of my summers have been spent on these fairgrounds. Almost every year is the same. Same great people. Same greasy foods. Same annoying strollers clogging up the aisles of the hog barns.
But this year, despite all of these similarities, something had changed.
This year, I saw dads walking pigs around the barns. I saw older brothers (who were long out of 4H) taking pigs to wash racks, unloading trailers, or test weighing pigs. I saw more “show jocks” treating skin and mixing feeds than I’d ever seen in one place at a time.
What I didn’t see were the 4Hers. Exhibiters were not scooping pens or brushing hogs or walking their animals through the aisles. In fact, there were very few 4Hers working in the barns at all. That is, until they all showed up dressed and ready to go on show days. On these days, kids followed their dads/show jocks/personal pig whisperers, who were still leading their animals, to the arena. The 4Hers never touched their pigs until they were shut in their holding pens.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love collaboration. I think it’s a vital part of our organization. Children should be taught how to properly care for, fit, and present their livestock. But these adults weren’t teaching their eight, nine, or ten-year-old to spray a can of Pepi or to not get water in their pigs’ ears. They were completing the swine project for their sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen-year-old, glorified “showman.” The child didn’t learn about the swine project, livestock, or the agriculture industry. They simply got dressed and showed.
Dear parents/show jocks/23 year-old 4Hers that don’t know how to retire:
What exactly are you attempting to accomplish? When you do all of the work for your child and he turns up on Sunday for a ring run and a ribbon, what have you taught him?
Because, from my standpoint, you’re showing him that hard work doesn’t matter. That any person can be successful as long as they have enough money or a big enough name. That someone else will always do the work for him, and he’ll still reap the rewards. By competing this way, you’re breeding an entitled generation full of arrogance.
It seems as though everyone is so committed to winning that honesty and the learning process have been eliminated from the show ring. The lessons the barn teaches are being ignored as the quest for banners and prestige continues to grow.
But the pride felt during that “Grand Slap” doesn’t stem from the awards won. It’s the product of thousands of hours spent in the barn. It’s the outcome of tears cried over stubborn animals that refused to walk in May but strut across the ring in August. That pride is the result of endless efforts—knowing that you did everything in your power to make this animal the best he could be and knowing that, for once, your best was good enough. Sharing that moment with an animal you’ve known its entire life, the thing that you’ve laughed with, cried with, and spent your entire summer beside, is priceless.
When the effort is removed and the bond between showman and animal does not exist, a banner is handed to someone who doesn’t truly deserve or appreciate the accomplishment. You’re teaching your child to value success more than the experience. You will create children who don’t love to show and only love to win—who expect a trophy instead of cherishing the greatness that they’ve worked to achieve.
As you take away the hard work from the project, you demolish the very essence of the 4H program. The organization that was founded on diligence, dedication, and passion is further destroyed each time a father takes the whip from his son and drives his pig to the show ring.
Teaching a child to fail is a greater and more important challenge than providing the successes for them. There is a difference between doing it for them and helping them to do it themselves. Do not hand your showmen banners. Teach them how to earn them. Let them show.
Author’s Note: All of the negative feedback this post has received has brought the conflict of the start of school and the Indiana State Fair to the forefront of the argument. To clarify, this situation was and is not limited to the Indiana State Fair swine barn. This post was written in that specific barn, but the practices it describes can be observed in different species and shows across the country. While I’m sure many hardworking kids had their parents help them feed while they attended their first days of school, many 4Hers attend shows throughout the year with animals that they did not care for themselves in order to hang a banner. This post is directed toward that practice. Not the honest family or the 4H member in general. Simply that practice. I wholeheartedly stand by my observations and my belief that the 4H project is founded on hard work, integrity, and passion.