The instant the gate opened Honey thrashed across the pen in a cyclone of rowdy snorts and flying wood shavings.
Despite the commotion, Amelia Wilson, 16, said her 254-pound, 6-month-old Hampshire-Yorkshire pig (colloquially known as a “Blue Butt”) is quite the sweetheart.
“That’s why I named her Honey,” Amelia said.
Perhaps the hog simply knew what awaited her in that pen. She was one of the show animals in Round Robin, an event at the Teton County Fair in which 4-H children attempt to show animals they know nothing about showing. Most fumble through an awkward performance.
But these were not showmanship novices — they were 4-H Grand Champions. Each had won first place in showing some animal, be it a horse, steer, lamb, dog or rabbit.
This was the true test of their abilities, though, as they went from one creature to the next, with no expertise to rely on. One moment they were spreading a chicken’s wings, the next they were baring a guinea pig’s teeth, all the while not sure what they were doing.
But it was a fun new experience for the kids, said Mike Robertson, the father of one of the competitors, and it gave them a chance to learn about a variety other animals.
“That’s how you know a true showman,” Robertson said. “They can show every animal in the barn.”
Unfortunately for Honey, not everyone can. In fact, by some accounts, swine are among the hardest to handle. The children must parade the pig before a judge for several minutes and answer esoteric questions. They try to maintain a “ham sandwich,” keeping their animal between themselves and the judge.
The goal is to present the hog from every angle. The method is to tap the animal with a stick, alternating sides, to nudge it in the right direction. Most of the time the pigs paid no heed to the prods.
“You can definitely tell the kids who have never shown a pig before,” Amelia said.
At one point Hailey Hardeman, Grand Champion of steer showmanship, tried her hand with Honey. The pig wandered aimlessly and eventually halted. Hardeman whacked her on one shoulder, then the other. One haunch, the other. She kneed the pig in the butt, but Honey would not budge.
Finally, as a befuddled Hailey wondered what to try next, Honey resumed her strolling, apparently for no reason other than that she wanted to.
Later, clearly growing tired from the hour-and-a-half performance, Honey laid down defiantly. The judge and 11-year-old Georgia Evans Wilson attempted to coax Honey back on her hooves, to no avail. As a last-ditch effort Amelia lightly sat on the animal’s back, and she cooperated.
But the next contestant, Braidyn McGough, faced the same problem. Honey stretched her front legs, again lowering herself to the ground.
Braidyn shot a perplexed look to her mother in the stands. Tori McGough laughed. She said Braidyn had been considering getting a larger animal, adding that she’s glad her daughter could try them out first at the Round Robin.
“It gives them a great appreciation of all different animals,” she said.
It’s uncertain whether Round Robin gives animals the same appreciation of humans. By the end of the event, exhausted by her incompetent handlers, Honey was escorted back to her pen, where she nestled in for a well-earned snooze.