National cattle handling title for local lass
BY ROB POOLEY
While sports awards generally focus on faster, higher, stronger, Year 13 Rodney College student Jennifer Thomas is excelling in something few people know little about, that of cattle handling or parading.
Having performed with promise in local shows, Jennifer was among the Northern representatives for the Royal Agricultural Society National Young Paraders/Judges competition at the Hastings A & P Show last October.
In taking out the top award she qualified as a New Zealand representative at the Royal Adelaide Show in Australia later this year. Young Kiwis will also compete in other classes such as dairy and beef judging, beef parader, and sheep fleece judging.
Run over ten days in early September, the Royal Adelaide show is attended by a total of over 500,000 people and is the biggest event on the South Australian calendar.
A keen interest from a young age saw Jennifer competing at calf club from six years of age but in the past few years taking an interest in the young handler competitions.
“This allowed me to test my strengths and weaknesses and see where I may need improving to show my cattle to the best of my and their abilities.”
Jennifer says the Hastings show presented several challenges. Usually in a class your animal will be judged, however in this particular one it is the handler being judged on how they present themselves and handle an animal which they may never have seen before.
Competitors had just 30 minutes to get to know unfamiliar animals, allocated to them by drawing lots out of a hat. The competition also meant handlers had to swap animals so from dealing with more sedate Jerseys, Jennifer was moved to a more feisty Ayrshire.
”Just like a horse they respond better if you’re calm and if you talk quietly to them though you only really have seconds to get them to trust you and to lead and stand well for you,” she says.
And it’s not all about the animal. The competition is a package deal where paraders must present themselves in pristine dress and, like any performer, must look like they are enjoying their work even though some animals may be unpredictable at times.
“It can be a bit nerve racking being a national competition as opposed to a small local show, but once you get in the ring it’s business as usual,” she added.
Jennifer lives on her uncle’s farm between Wellsford and Tomarata. He owns a Jersey stud and Jennifer and her sister train up cows and calves to take to local shows. She leaves Rodney College this year to do a Bachelor of Education (Primary) at the Auckland University campus in Whangarei but it’s hard to imagine her being far from the show ring whenever able.
Caption: Royal Agricultural Society of New Zealand president Geoff Smith presents Jennifer with her award.
Caption: Jennifer is all concentration with her charge under the watchful eyes of the judge.