I did not grow up showing cattle, much less attending “Denver.” But, if you are from a ranching background, or even just a 4-H or FFA past, and you are from Colorado or just about any other state north of the Mason-Dixon line, it was a part of your life and, probably still is. For most purebred cattle breeds, the National Western Stock Show is one of the premier open cattle shows in the Nation. Most breeds have their National Shows at Denver, and many have, or still do, host their National Conventions in or around NWSS’s schedule.
Despite all the craziness of the months leading up to Denver and the pages I could write about all of that (the long process of selecting the final selection of the show string cattle, the normal fall routine work, the Holidays and show cattle preparation), I can really sum up my mixed emotions of NWSS with a short discussion of Show Day.
The day begins with anticipation. We are up and leaving the hotel by 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. on Show Day. The cattle have to be led in from tie-outs, washed, dried and fed. We’ve watched the cattle eat and drink, and, hopefully, feel satisfied with their fullness and general appearance. So, while they get a little time to lie down and relax, we try to have some breakfast and coffee and anticipate the time our classes will show and when we should start fitting each of them.
As the morning show preparations get going in full force all over the barn, I am now in full “stand-by” mode. I am watching the progress of classes and reporting back to Bill and Sydney and those who might be helping us fit for the day. I try to be there for whatever is needed, so I often feel like a trusted dog, waiting to play fetch.
As its time for our classes, we lead them into the ring with a little excitement – especially for those calves that we have a lot of high hopes for. Over the years, I have learned that not all calves selected for show, in the Summer, develop the same by January. Some are simply “good cattle” and we are very proud to have them represent our ranch. Then, there are a few each year, that make us excited to lead them out into the show ring.
Now, the Class! My nerves are bouncing around, full force. Will the calf show well? Will the big bull walk out like he should? I am on the side, watching the judge pull the cattle into his placings, hoping he doesn’t choose us until the top end of the class. For some entries, it can be a small feeling of euphoria, as the calf ends up toward the top and you feel like, “Great – the judge really saw her/him!” . For some, it might be an, “oh, well – kind of expected placement.” But, for those that you had higher hopes for and they end up at the bottom half, the full FRUSTRATION emotion kicks in.
That’s when I find myself thinking, “Why do we do this every year? Why do we spend all the time and money getting these cattle ready, only to have that judge, basically, tell us we were wrong about our evaluation?” ” Why do I feel like we just aren’t well-known enough, to get the full attention of the Judge who might recognize others out there on the halter?” If I don’t stop it, full depression will set in.
As the day progresses and each of our animals have all entered the ring, and exited the ring, these emotions keep cycling. Then, we are all done. And, I am now feeling kind of empty. All the work and anticipation is behind us and now we just have to pack up and go home. Some years are better and we are walking around with some feelings of accomplishment, other years are just a “let-down” feeling and most years are somewhere in between.
Now, before we can enjoy our successes and wallow in disappointment, it’s time to get busy and get packed up and loaded out. That’s when my “get busy and do something” emotion kicks in. Now, this is something I can control, so off we go. Cattle are washed and fed and set aside, stalls are torn down and loaded in the trailer and we load up and head to dinner and the hotel, in full exhaustion mode.
Surprisingly, the dinner and relaxation is probably one of the most important times of the week. We sit around, rehash the day, complain about the judge and our fatigue and start the talk about next week, then next month, then next year.
So, the next morning we are on our way home , usually back to that feeling of anticipation of the Spring bull sales, the new calves, the Summer grazing and Fall weaning, and all the projects and challenges in between. Then, before I know it, I hear us referring to “next year at Denver, we will …..” So, I guess we are going to be doing all of this again next year and all my emotions will be returning in about 364 days.