It Takes a Tribe by Tarah Ferguson

Folks in the stock show world know that “behind every showman is a tribe of family, teachers, and cheerleaders” — not to mention thousands of motivational memes on Facebook — that push showmen to keep going and do their best. Getting an animal ready to show begins months in advance, and consists of many early mornings, late nights, and long hours in the barn. At times, it’s enjoyable. Other times, it’s grueling. In either case, the tribe is critical.

My sister, Chelsea, and I grew up showing livestock. Together with our parents, we formed our own tribe. As my sister and I grew up and got to know more people in the barn, our tribe transformed into a large, extended family of stock show kids, parents, and friends. We kept each other motivated and depended on one other to help out on show day. Before long, we were celebrating wins and coping with losses as a group. If one member of the tribe won, we all won; if one member lost, we all lost.

As a 4-H agent, I help my livestock kids form tribes and incorporate new members to existing tribes. The tribe functions as a team, whether it’s getting cattle ready for the show day, taking a group trip to Taco Bell for lunch, or bonding over a serious card game. Whatever the activity, the tribe will be in it together; meanwhile, the parents, family, friends, agents, and advisory are available to provide support and encouragement as needed.

One of my favorite memories of the tribe working together occurred at one of the Dixie National Junior Shows in which my sister participated. It had been a long week in the barn, and we were short-handed on show day. Chelsea was the first of the group to show that day and we were struggling to get everything ready on time. All six of the heifers were in the same division, so they showed back-to-back, and it literally took everyone to get them in the right age class at the right time. Most of the classes were a blur, and before I knew it, all six heifers won their classes and were going back in the ring for the Championship Drive. I was in charge of finding enough showman to take the heifers back in the ring. When I frantically looked around,I saw the tribe standing by, show sticks in hand, asking which heifer I wanted them to show. Needless to say, they were there exactly when we needed them. I didn’t even have to ask.

Throughout the day and in later years, each member of the tribe experienced similar moments of panic, and every time the tribe standing by ready to help. Together we celebrated our victories and congratulated competing tribes who on some days outshined us. To this day, we still depend on one another to be present and ready to assist when one of us needs help.

Now, as a “tribe leader,” I return to the same stock shows each year, and see new tribes forming. You can bet that if one member of the tribe is about to show, the rest won’t be far behind. The faces of the tribes may change from year to year, but the adventures, hard work, and comradery remain the same.