The most anticipated livestock exhibition at the Faulkner County Fair each year is the market hogs show, set each fair week on Wednesday night.
This year was no different, as hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch Faulkner County youth in their starched jeans and boots maneuver their animals around a judge in the center of the show ring.
This year, Grand Champion honors went to Rachel Harris of Greenbrier FFA, and Reserve Grand Champion went to Lainey Homan, 8, a member of the Mount Vernon/Enola 4-H Livestock Team.
But getting into the ring with a more than 500-pound animal is no simple task. Students in county 4-H and FFA clubs work for months prepping their entries for show, and prepping themselves for showmanship.
Homan, a Vilonia Primary student, also won showmanship in her age group, taking home a traditional belt buckle and ribbon.
"You get in the show ring, you keep his head up and you keep ’em going," she said.
During the show, older exhibitors were sticking together in the barn, sharing nervous laughs and pats on the back, as each one waited for their show class to be called.
Three Greenbrier FFA students, Makayla Cunningham, Juliana Winston and Hunter Hurley, were among them.
The 2016 show marked Hurley’s second year in the show ring. Last year, his hogs didn’t place, but at the time of this interview, he had already locked in a second-place honor with his Duroc gilt.
"I just have a bigger drive this year," he said. "I wanted to actually place, and work with them more."
Cunningham was just gearing up for her first show of the night. Also a second-year exhibitor, she was confident going into the ring. Having placed Grand Champion in the district show in 2015.
"I’m looking for another good year," she said. "I actually got to sell my Hampshire gilt from last year through county fair, and it was really fun."
There is no trick, they all agree, to raising an animal for show. But there is a lot of hard work and a lot of fun.
"Work with your animal. Have fun with it. If you’re not having fun with it, you’re not going to show good. And you’re not going to want to do anything with it," Cunningham said.
"I tried to work my barrow a lot more than I did my gilt last year," Winston echoed. "It just goes back to the hog, it’s temperament and other things. But you have to work."
Winston has shown hogs for three years, with highest honor being a first-place ribbon at the state fair. Waiting to show on Wednesday was a good time to reflect on just how different a judge can be from show to show.
"That surprised me, out of the blue, when I won," she said. "I did pretty decent. I got fourth at county, second at district and it was just like — I got first in state!"
A livestock team is much like an athletic team, the three agreed. There are nerves, adrenaline and drive heading into the show ring.
"You’re always out there to watch (other team members), to give your support to them," Cunningham said. "And you want the same in return, so it’s just like a big family."