GREENFIELD — Vaseline, spray paint, a quick shot of Gatorade – 4-H’ers will use just about anything to give their animals an advantage in the ring.
For the seasoned 4-H’er, a few behind-the-scenes steps before the competition starts are just par for the course. The contestants know; the judges know; and everyone agrees the right preparation can mean the difference between first place and second.
These tricks of the trade, some employed weeks in advance and others moments before show time, are used to hide flaws and enhance an animal’s overall presentation before the judge.
Before the sheep show this week – one of more than a dozen livestock shows held during the fair this week – 10-year 4-H’er Bryce Kleiman applied “white out,” an aerosol spray, to his sheep’s coat.
“It just makes the wool whiter,” he said. “It just makes them stand out.”
In an arena full of animals that can start to look the same to a tired judge’s eyes, having one that draws attention is a must, 4-H’ers say.
No one knows that better than horse showmen, who braid their horses’ manes, condition their tails and even paint designs on their sides in hopes of making the best impression.
And if a horse’s mane or tail isn’t quite the perfect shade, no problem. A box of hair dye will do the trick.
Jennifer Willis, whose daughters show horses in Hancock County, said she couldn’t help but laugh when she received cellphone photos last week of a horse getting a dye job, its mane and tail wrapped in tin foil while the color absorbed into the hair.
“Just like you do at the beauty parlor,” Willis said. “It is hilarious. I’ve never seen something so funny in all my life.”
Some 4-H’ers purchase hair extensions for their horses, then braid the fake hair into the tail so it looks fuller, Willis said.
Many preparations happen days in advance, while others are best left to the day of competition.
Willis’ daughter, Chloe Willis, 14, said her horse always undergoes a variety of touchups before entering the arena, including a glob of Vaseline to the nose.
“It makes it more shiny, and it kind of like stands out some, and it gets the judge’s attention,” she said.
The same philosophy applies to 4-H’ers preparing their cattle. Aerosol glue applied to a cow’s legs, for example, helps the hair stand on end and makes the legs appear fuller. A coat of dark spray paint masks the glue’s white color.
For years, the county fair was held in late July, giving 4-H’ers plenty of time to raise their livestock to the preferred market weight. But when the company that puts on the carnival unexpectedly went out of business in 2012, fair officials were forced to move the fair to June to accommodate the vendor’s replacement.
That means 4-H’ers have had to make other arrangements for their animals to be closer to the perfect number on the scale.
The afternoon before the goat show, 4-H’er Olivia Scott gave her Boer goats a mixture of Gatorade and a calorie supplement in hopes of increasing the animals’ weight before show time, as well as keeping them hydrated.
The animals undergo stress from the heat and also from being in an unfamiliar location, Scott said, and the electrolytes in the Gatorade can help keep them energized.
“I think they like the yellow best,” she joked.
Kleiman said since most of the animal’s preparation happens in the barn with their competitors nearby, 4-H’ers end up learning tricks of the trade from one another.
There’s no guarantee making a few tweaks will make a difference, but it’s always worth a try, he said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s expected, but sometimes, it helps,” he said. “Just depends on the judge.”