“You still have a lot of years left” seems to be the only words echoing through my mind as I prepare myself for my last market lamb show as a junior exhibitor. Whatever increments I had ever used to measure my show career; years, shows, days, animals, or even handshakes – I have one left.
Twelve years ago, when I walked into the ring of my first county show with a large medium wool lamb named “Buddy” and looked around at the high school seniors standing next to me, I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were incredible. They made everything look effortless while I was just praying not to let go of the lamb. In that moment, I decided that all I wanted to be was like them. Now that I am a senior who has achieved goals that have surpassed my wildest dreams, I realize that I would give anything to be a first grader in a bright pink shirt walking into the ring for the first time with her best friend “Buddy.” A child whose biggest concern is not letting go of her lamb instead of letting go of her last chance to achieve her dreams. A child who could try again next time instead of a girl who would give anything for the promise of just a few more steps in the ring. A child who said goodbye to her lamb at the end of a show instead of a girl who will say goodbye to an activity to which she has dedicated her life thus far.
As I begin to count down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until my last show, I realize that the world has played a terrible trick on me. It has tricked me into believing that twelve years was an infinitely long time. I have spent twelve years believing that I could chase banners, buckles, and handshakes until there were no more to be had. I have spent twelve years building relationships with people whose laughs will soon become distant as we all disperse to chase different dreams. I have spent twelve years chasing and achieving my dreams. Although twelve years has given me a breed banner at every Texas major, a State Fair of Texas Grand Champion, Rodeo Austin Grand Champion, and a Reserve Grand Champion at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, what it has not given me is the time to stop. Twelve years never gave me the time to stop chasing my goals for a single moment. I was unable to savor the times I walked the victory lap, occupied one of the cry-holes, was left standing, was handed a banner, received a congratulatory hug, or received one of the most coveted of handshakes in the industry. Instead, I was left running to the next show, next lamb, and next judge because there was just never enough time. It was not until I no longer had another show, lamb, or judge to run towards that I was forced to stop, look, and appreciate every step I had ever taken in the show ring and how each one of these has brought me to the summit of my mountain of goals and dreams.
However, these steps have done much more for me than taking me to my goals, they have paved the path that will soon become the type of legacy I leave in this industry. I remember standing on the fence watching classes enter and exit the show ring when I was younger. However, it was not the animals that my parents urged me to pay attention to, but the exhibitors. Tensions were always high and it was obvious that everyone wanted to come out on top but my parents asked me to focus my attention on the way these teenagers reacted when they lost. I watched intently as some of the best in the business took their losses with grace and dignity. However, it seemed that “if I ever see you act like that…” littered every other sentence that came out of my parent’s mouth. I remember watching teens blatantly disrespect their parents, the judge, and their animals in the ring. That sense of awe I had felt while watching them show with such grace quickly faded away. No one likes losing, including me, but as a senior I feel as if the world is about to end because I didn’t achieve every single goal that I set for myself. Then I look out into the crowd and always seem to find a younger showman watching and I realize that the way I behave myself is much more meaningful than the banner or ribbon that I didn’t win on that one day. Even though I will never get to decide my own placing, I am the one who determines the legacy I leave in this industry. Just as I watched the seasoned showmen enter and exit the ring, someone else is watching me and I would like to think that I owe it to each and every upcoming showman to emphasize the values humility, appreciation, and respect already preset in the industry whether I win or lose.
Being involved with market lambs has not only impacted the way I think about my actions, but the way I have grown to think about myself every day. As a young child, I was particularly shy. I struggled to interact with my peers which made it difficult for me to foster meaningful relationships with those around me. However, showing market animals blessed me with a community of people who seemed to support my journey no matter what. As my hard work and dedication began to pay off in the show ring, my confidence in myself grew. This confidence soon became applicable in every other aspect of my life. I began to dream bigger and try completely new things. It was with this new self-confidence pushing me forward that I became involved with riding and showing horses at the age of nine. I quickly learned that the confidence with which I exhibited my lamb would be my most valuable asset as an equestrian athlete. I started late with an incredibly steep learning curve to overcome. Just as I had learned to set impossibly high goals when showing lambs, I set impossibly high goals as an equestrian athlete to become a member of the Texas A&M Horsemanship Team. That is exactly where you will find me in the Fall of 2017. The confidence that I attribute to my involvement with market animals brought me both a Reserve and World Champion NSBA title and a spot as a recruited student athlete on one of the best equestrian teams in the nation.
Showing market lambs has blessed me with so many gifts, friendships, and accomplishments but the greatest of all of these is the set of memories that will remain in my heart forever. The animals, the moments, and the people are all timeless treasures that have impacted me and will continue to influence me and my journey through life. I will never forget “20,” the finewool lamb that ended up bringing home a Reserve Champion banner at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, my first major show ever. He was special. I don’t think I, or anyone in my family, had ever cried harder than in the moment that we all kissed one of our best friends goodbye. I will never forget that moment in the spring of 2016 when my entire world seemed to stop as the market lamb judge at Rodeo Austin unexpectedly extended his hand towards me. What made all of these handshakes and animals so special were the people with which I was able to share them. These people never ceased to fill my junior show career with laughter, support, and unforgettable memories. I will never forget the way volunteers always seemed to ease my nerves with corny jokes and loud laughs in the ring. I will never forget the sea of green coats and pink scarves that made each one of my Fort Worth shows special. I will never forget the way a friend ran up to hug me after a show with an expression of joy that rivaled my own. I will never forget all of the wonderful people that have selflessly given their time to help me achieve my goals. I will never forget the people that stood by my side when everything seemed to go wrong. Finally, I will never forget the way my Mom, Dad, and sister supported me, prayed for me, believed in me, and loved me from my very first step into the ring to my last.