In an metal-gated arena with green wood chips covering the ground, people of all ages gathered — leaning on fences, sitting on bleachers, watching intently — to see who would win the top position in the Howard County Fair’s goat showmanship contest Monday.
The show was among dozens of events at the 73rd annual Howard County Fair, a weeklong staple that opened Saturday and continues through Saturday, that is expected to attract as many as 100,000 people, according to Kim Sullivan, of the Howard County Fair Association board of directors.
White-and-brown goats, guided by children who had trained them for this moment, strutted in front of judge Brian Faris.
They kept their smooth backsides level as they stuck their heads in their air, and Faris observed how the children would maintain eye contact with him, setting up the goats’ legs, showing off the animals’ muscles and demonstrating their ability to work as a team.
“We talk about poise of ladies in beauty pageants and things and our showmen are critical to have poise. If they get frustrated at something, if they just come in and they’ve got a bad attitude, all that stuff has to be left outside the showroom,” Faris said. “I can tell just by evaluating kids, watch their demeanor, they’re out there having a good time, and ultimately that’s what we want them doing, as well.”
The three contestants, who had topped their respective age groups —the junior, intermediate and senior categories —watched as Faris approached to shake the hand of 13-year-old Taryn Schwartz, the intermediate category contestant, to signify her win.
Taryn, who has been showing goats for about the past five years, said it was “really exciting” to nab the top spot in the competition.
“When I was a junior, and last year as an intermediate, I got the divisional — but I never won it all,” said the rising eighth-grader at the Sandy Spring Friends School.
The win didn’t come overnight for Taryn, of Brookeville. Her mother, Jamie Schwartz, said she gets up before school to feed her goat, as well as at night, and has been working with the animal all summer to prepare.
“To see your child have that kind of effort into a project, and she doesn’t always win, but when you do it’s really meaningful,” she said. “It’s not quick and easy. It’s a lot of work.”
Faris said he doesn’t go in with the expectation that juniors, intermediates and seniors will all compete at the same level.
“But oftentimes we do see that special junior, that special intermediate, that is extremely talented and can compete against seniors,” he said. “It’s fun. That’s the part of the project that I always love.”
Harrison Iager, the 16-year-old senior contestant, placed second in the final contest. He began preparing his goat since it was born in December — training him to brace, walk well while he leads and be comfortable around he and his sister and the rest of their farm in Woodbine. His sister is an “amazing showman,” which made him want to jump in the showroom scene when he was nine. He said the practice has taught him patience, how to adjust in the moment and focus on what’s in front of him.
His family has long roots at the fair — his mother, Elisha Iager, met her husband here, who was showing dairy cattle, more than 30 years ago when his older brother and her older sister handcuffed them together to a tree in front of the dairy barn. The rest was history, and the two were married in 1998.
“If you surround yourself with better showmen, better people, then you overall will be a better showman,” he said before the goats took their final parade in front of the judge.
Following the contest, goats are sold in a live auction on Friday evening in the fair’s showroom, said Miranda Iager. They’re sold for about $350 to $450 per goat to either be shown again, eaten, donated for a specific cause, or to be held as pets or for breeding, she added.
Thursday’s fair events include horse and pony shows, dairy cattle shows, dog agility and rabbit judging.
Friday’s features include the 4-H Club livestock sale.