County Fair

“Your kids, our future!”

The Big Sky Country State Fair is a gift to Montana kids. When we entered the fairgrounds, we could see the rides popping out from behind buildings. All the children beelining towards them seem to become a river, as they all flowed together and wound their way to the ticket booth.

And while we were tempted to go with the flow towards the carnival rides, we instead found a much more impressive experience in the indoor arena. When we first entered the barn, there was a small audience watching a sheep herding trial. The advanced dogs and trainers went first, and it was clear these were working dogs. Blurs of black, white, and tails whipped around, only taking clear form when the dogs hit the ground faster than gravity on their owner’s command.

Nero herding sheep

The dogs were the spotlight of the show, but the sidelines had just as cute of stories playing out.

One girl came back to say a quick hello to her mom but was soon roped into staying longer than initially planned. One of the judges for the herding event had her one-year-old with her. The baby was quickly passed to the young women to hold, so that mom could get back to work. You would have thought they were long-term family friends, but it wasn’t until the baby was returned to her mother that names were even exchanged.

It didn’t matter whether you were 21, a young mom, or an experienced grandparent. So long as you cooed at the baby, could talk through sheep bleats, and didn’t mind walking through dog pee, you were welcomed.

One generation introduces the next to the indoor arena

We were so enthralled by the goings-ons on the sideline, that we almost forgot about the competition in the arena. When we tuned back into it, nine-year-old Emma was taking her turn on the course. She was competing as a junior handler, and even though she was the only one in her age group competing that day, the judges had still made a junior specific course.  

The course was designed for her to succeed within the four minutes allotted so any junior handler would be able to pen the sheep and get the satisfaction that comes with closing the gate on them. 

Emma pens the sheep

The drive to assist kids in succeeding was everywhere throughout the fair. Across from the indoor arena was the bunny and goat barn. While walking through it, ribbons were attached to all sorts of rabbit cages, in novice, junior and senior categories. Further into the barn was the goat section, where mama and baby goats were trying to relax in the heat. On their stalls were posters labeling all the parts of goats.

The kids participating in these 4-H programs were succeeding in competitions, learning how to care for an animal, and learning how their animal was put together. One 10-year-old had adorably labeled the forehead on their goat poster.

Going through the goat barn

Many parents have put energy into these different events so that their kids can succeed in them. But they haven’t made it easy! You could see the time young 4-H kids had put into posters, not to mention the fact that they had raised an actual living animal! And Emma, the 9-year-old sheep herder, may have had an easier course, but she still penned sheep by communicating with her dog. Communication with humans can be hard, Emma was working with two different types of animals that can’t even speak!

The fair teaches kids how to work hard, and be patient. And in Montana, we don’t have a better plan than that.

On our way towards the exit, we stopped to watch one last event. Two men were running an exhibit where kids could jump on a child-sized replica of a John Deere tractor with a trailer attached to it. The competition was for them to pedal the tractor 25 feet with 175 pounds in the trailer. Kids who completed the task went on to the next round with more weight added to their tractor. One of the men told the audience that the five-year record was 450 pounds!

After all the young boys and girls had maxed out on weight, the announcers were wrapping up the event and thanking the audience for participating, finishing with:

“Thanks for all of our participants today, folks! They may be your kids, but they’re our future!”

We couldn’t agree more.

Our future riding mini Johne Deere tractors.


-Andie Creel

Got something to say to Prairie Populist? Send news tips, story ideas and comments to [email protected]If you have something to submit, or an idea for a story you’d like to write for us, check out our Submission Guidelines here.