Some of the people attending the 150 or so rural shows across the country during the next six months might wonder at times about what is really happening in the horse and cattle rings.
After the results have been announced and the cups and rosettes presented to the winning exhibitors of major championships, visitors might see the award winning animals being led to a quite corner.
What takes place next can often intrigue people who are not familiar with the trappings of bloodstock and livestock showing and might even give the impression that some ancient rite or practice is being perfomed.
Sharp-eyed onlookers could occasionally see a crouched man with a tuft of grass in his hand, jumping up and down like a monkey and uttering strange utterances like an New Zealand rugby player performing a quiter version of the Haka.
Or it could be the sight of intent looking people waving show catalogues above their heads like animated Honourable Members of the British House of Commons during set-piece debates, or it could just be a young stockperson rattling a feed bucket.
People who are not regular show visitors can be assured that such behaviour is a normal and indeed practical feature after the final judging of some major classes and has nothing to do with the position of the moon or human mood swings.
It has, however, all to do with the desire of award winning cattle and horse breeders to ensure that their well groomed animals are seen to stand properly and look well in the photographs that are taken after a big success.
Perception is everything and an animal with apparent good conformation in a photograph could be an important marketing asset in their potential subsequent sale.
However, some of these splendid animals can be tempermental and might decide they are not in the mood to pose like fashion models. Sometimes, it can often take a lot of human coaxing and patience to get the image right.
Indeed, the importance for exhibitors of getting their horses noticed is highlighted by Declan McArdle, Equine Specalist, Teagasc Rural Economy and Development Progeramme, writing in Today’s Farm, a joint venture publication between Teagasc and the Agricultural Trust.
“We live in a digital age where the world is our oyster with regard to promoting stock for sale. It is the norm to upload photographs and videos of horses for sale on the web, as clients are reluctant to travel without seeing a photograph.
In fact, I have heard of occasions where buyers purchased horses from photographs and videos posted without ever actually seeing the horse in the flesh.
“Although a rare occurence, it illustrates the influence a good photograph and video can have on potential clients, assuming the horse meets their requirements.”
Declan McArdle stressed that it is imperative for owners when uploading photos of their horse or pony that they realise it is their sales pitch and presentation to potential customers.
“No amount of words will make up for a bad photo or video. However, unfortunately, many adverts posted of horses for sale do not show the horse looking its best which, in many cases, can have a negative impact on the marketing campaign.
“More often than not you find that people upload any old photograph at hand to promote their stock. Many are left subsequently scratching their heads as to why they had difficulty selling their animal or why in a lot of cases they got no enquiries at all,” he stated Pointing out that it takes considerable time and preparation to take a suitable photograph of a horse, he invited owners to place themselves in the shoes of the potential purchaser.
“If you were to buy a horse in the morning, how would you like it presented to you? For example, if you went to buy a car and visited a car lot with two identical cars on offer, except one is valeted and clean and the other is not, which one would you go for?”
Preparing stock for shows is indeed hard work. In the case of horses, grooms are up at dawn each show morning ensuring their entries are well turned out.
Many animals are washed, shampooed, rinsed and dried the night before to give their coats an attractive shine, with the final cosmetic touches being applied after they are fed in the morning.
Tails and manes are combed, platted and pleated. Hoof oil is applied to create a gloss and minor blemishes are masked and positive characteristics highlighted.
The same principle applies to cattle exhibitors, who are equally anxious that their animals are well-prepared and are looking their best when they appear in front of the judges and perhaps potential buyers on show day.
The Irish Shows Association, Horse Sport Ireland and individual shows have introduced championships and other events in recent years to help young exhibitors in the skills of handing and showing animals.
It is all worthwhile because shows have a proud tradition stretching across two centuries of bringing town and country people together, socially and economically.
The events help to raise production standards and provide shop window displays for the country’s agricultural sector.
It is therefore important that the livestock, bloodstock and farm produce dispayed on those platforms are of a high quality and are properly presented and promoted to the benefit of the individual exhibitor and the wider community.
The most high profile of all those events, the five-day Dublin Horse Show at the RDS, will run this year from July 20 to 24. This change of date from the traditional first week in August is to accommodate competitors just weeks before the Rio Olympic Games.
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