Now that it is fair time in New Jersey, it is important to know how to display the lambs or sheep you have worked so hard to raise. Showmanship is the ability of an exhibitor to present an animal effectively and competitively in the show ring. A good showman can actually improve his or her placing in a breed class just by good handling skills. It sounds simple, but the best showmen will tell you it takes practice and hard work!
- Halters are not recommended for showmen unless they are beginners or it is a matter of safety.
- Make sure the halter is on correctly. The nose piece, which is usually thicker, should be about half way between the nose and eyes. The lead should be on the left.
- Never wrap a halter around your hand as this could cause rope burn or other injuries.
- If you must use a halter, bundle any excess lead length and secure it with a rubber band to avoid having a dangling lead.
- A better method is to place one hand beneath the jaw of your animal and the other hand behind the ears. Having both hands on your animal gives you more control.
- In the ring, walk in a straight line at a moderate pace. A lamb walking at a natural pace is more attractive to the judge.
- Keep your eyes on the judge at all times and follow instructions or hand signals.
- Never block the judge from viewing your sheep.
- Switch sides to always keep the sheep between you and the judge – like a sandwich. Never walk behind your sheep to switch sides.
- Stay a step back from your animal unless you are bracing.
- If your sheep is being uncooperative, gently lift on the dock to encourage forward movement. Never drag an animal or tug on its wool. This is inhumane and can cause bruising.
- When you stop, set your animal up as quickly and smoothly as possible.
- All four feet should be set square at the corners, like the legs of a table.
- Use your hands to pick up a leg above the hock and place it in the appropriate spot.
- If you cannot reach, use your knee and apply pressure to the brisket. The animal will adjust its footing.
- The more correct the animal’s conformation, the more naturally it will stand squarely.
- Set the legs closest to the judge first.
- When the judge is handling your animal, be sure to brace. Bracing is when you encourage your sheep to flex the muscles in their loin and legs.
- To brace your lamb, push your knee into the brisket or shoulder area so your lamb pushes against you and flexes. There are many techniques to train your lamb to brace, but the most important thing is to practice.
- Practice, practice, practice! Champions are recognized in the ring but made through hard work on the farm.
- Keep one “sheep length” of space between yourself and the other showmen. The judge should be able to walk between each animal.
- Avoid low spots and dips that make your animal look unbalanced.
- Avoid poles or other objects that obstruct the judge’s view.
- Know who the ring stewards are and listen to them.
- Pay attention to the judge. Watch for hand signals or other instructions.
- Keep your animal’s head up and ears forward to make your sheep look alert.
- If you’re animal gets loose, remain calm and work with the ring stewards to catch your animal. Return to your position in the ring.
- Stay in line with the other showmen.
- The class is not over until it is dismissed. The judge can adjust his/her placing at any time, even while giving reasons.
- Your appearance should never distract the judge from the animal. Dress neatly, with hair tied back, no jewelry, minimal make up or other distractions.
- Your animal should be clean. Before entering the ring, make sure there is no straw or bedding hanging off the animal.
Up next month, a look at the importance of good sportsmanship.
By Mary McLaughlin, Somerset County 4-H Volunteer, Rutgers Cooperative Extension