Well, it’s March in Houston, Texas. You know what that means…it’s time to get your boots on and get ready to Rodeo! The trail riders have finally made their way to Houston. I live in Montgomery County and always love seeing the various teams moving in from the north, even if they slow down traffic.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo officially starts on March 4th and runs through March 23rd. As you know, there will be plenty of music (Brad Paisley starts us off this year), food (yes, all of those deep fried items and barbecue), and fun (the children’s petting zoo and pony rides). But what you may not know is that this is the culmination of months of preparation for thousands of Texas 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) students and their livestock. I have to admit I always get nostalgic at this time of year.
You see, in central Kansas where I grew up on a farm and cattle ranch, late February and early March is when you select your steer for the annual 4-H fair and livestock show in July. Many years ago when I was in high school, my father and I made a trip to another local cattle ranch to select my steer for that year’s show. While we raised Shorthorn-Hereford cattle, I was looking for a special steer. I found him. A Simmental-Hereford crossbred. He was gorgeous and had a look in his eye that said you and I can do this 4-H showmanship thing. We bought him and I named him Sebastian because I was also a runner in those days and the British runner Sebastian Coe was setting world records at an amazing pace. I thought it might bring us good luck.
The process of training a steer involved: relationship-building, halter training, grooming, and showmanship training. How do you become friends with a bovine? Sit in the round hay bale feeder in the corral and read books for hours on end. (Please remember I ultimately became an academic.) Eventually they get curious and come to check you out.
Once Sebastian and I became friends, the tricky part was introducing the halter. I never “broke” any of my steers. I always introduced the rope halter gently and let them get used to it before I introduced the fancy leather halters that we would ultimately use at the livestock show.
Once he was comfortable with the rope halter, it was time to start grooming Sebastian. As Sebastian matured, I had to figure out a way to show off his best features. In addition to daily brushing and the weekly washing in the summer (quite an experience in and of itself if you have never tried to shampoo a 1200 pound steer in 100 degree heat), you must ultimately decide how best to use clippers to cut the hair to accentuate the body. Additionally, when I was showing livestock, fancy tails were popular. This involved much combing and hairspray. Yes, I said hairspray-this ensured that the tail remained nicely styled throughout the competition. Sebastian always took it all in stride.
Once Sebastian was in top physical form, it was time to continue the showmanship training for months before the actual show. A student and her bovine are a team. Both must learn how to walk in the ring in tandem. Both must learn how to “set the animal up” with a show stick so that the judge will see the best features. This involves competing against others, both bovines and humans. Sebastian was a natural. I think he loved showing off.
Ultimately, Sebastian and I ended up doing very well. We won the Barton County 4-H fair Grand Championship for showmanship. I had on my boots and he had on his attitude.
At the end of a major livestock show, the steers (not the cows) are sold at auction. After months and months of work, it’s always hard. While I always knew the end would come, it was never easy. Of course, this was an investment for learning the cattle business through 4-H, but I cried every time…especially for Sebastian.
I encourage you to check out the Livestock Show aspect of Rodeo Houston. You might be surprised at what you experience besides the music, food, and fun. There are a lot of students and livestock that have traveled a long road to get there.