Meet four-year old Julia and her two large friends. She had the fine distinction of being the youngest and smallest driver in a special class of oxen pulling created at the Farmington Fair this year. She also had the distinction of having the largest team in the class.
For somebody who’s a huge fan of oxen pulling and an even bigger fan of kids this was one of the better experiences I had while attending fairs this year. She was truly amazing. Driving oxen is about using a “goad” (the stick she’s holding in the photo) and “tapping” the oxen in distinct spots to encourage them to move in certain directions. Julia got some chuckles because she had trouble reaching their backs so she would occasionally leap into the air if a correction seemed necessary. She would also occasional leap over piles of poop. The oxen seemed to understand and follow her lead. (They didn’t leap, but they pulled nicely.)
Surely some credit is owed her Dad–these oxen are obviously older than Julia so he must have done most of their training. And a lot of credit goes to the Farmington Fair Association for encouraging these kids. There seven teams driven by kids of assorted ages. Honorable mention goes to Oxford Fair where I was pleased to find a 4-H Club centered around kids raising steers and learning to drive oxen–thought by many to be a “dying art.”
I don’t know if Julia will continue to compete as she grows up, but she did seem to have fun. It’s not usual to see kids walk with a team at the end of competition. But this was not the case. The adults who were present kept their distance and the kids did the actual drawing. One young fellow kept running out of hands. He needed one for the goad, one for the rope attached to the halter, and one to pull up his pants as they kept sliding down.
I sorta kept an eye on Julia while she was waiting her turn–not out of concern for her safety, but out of curiosity. Her attention didn’t waiver; she gave her oxen the same attention one might expect of adult teamsters. She also seemed to have a lot more energy than her adult counterparts.
Watching her was a powerful reminder–one that I hope you’ll experience from seeing these photos–even if you know nothing about oxen and these competitions. Remember, she’s four years old–preschool age. If a picture isn’t worth a thousand words, here are the words: Never underestimate a kid.