SALEM, Ohio — At the Erie County Fair in New York, Earl Keele was busy helping his brother take care of the cattle they’d brought for show. He fed and watered and groomed while his daughter, Shannon, took in the hustle and bustle of the barn.
Shannon, who was 9 at the time, stood back for a while. But it wasn’t long until she wanted to be a part of the action.
“She came up to me after a couple of days and she goes, ‘why can’t I do this?’” Earl said.
He thought for a minute before he answered.
“I couldn’t think of a reason why she couldn’t,” he said.
The next year, Shannon was at the halter of a young calf. Like most new showmen, Shannon found it wasn’t easy to control an animal that outweighed her by hundreds of pounds.
“She got beat up, she got kicked, stepped on, but she kept at it,” Earl said.
Today, Shannon is 15 and she’s still keeping at it, but with a bit more confidence and polish than that first year.
“It was something that she wanted to do and then from there on in, it was adapt and overcome,” Earl said. “Whatever we had to do, we did.”
Earl and Shannon hit the road on a regular basis now, displaying their Shorthorns at shows from Syracuse, N.Y., to Butler, Pa.
In the show ring, Shannon focuses on typical exhibitor concerns — how her animal looks, how it’s acting, where the judge is at.
Especially where the judge is at.
Her dad goes into the ring, too. He stays nearby and helps Shannon figure out when to stop, when to go and where her heifer’s feet should be.
Shannon is legally blind. Born with opaque corneas, she sees just a fraction of what her fellow showmen see.
“If the lighting is dark, then I can’t see as good and the cow’s feet blend in with the sawdust or the bark,” Shannon said, adding that a well-lit arena helps her see better.
Shannon and Earl agree the best way to have a successful show season is by doing their homework. They start working with their show animals at a young age — Shannon leads them around the yard and each time they stop, Earl sets them up.
“They sort of learn that that’s the way they’re supposed to stand when she’s with them and they stop,” Earl said.
Although Shannon can see well enough to double check the front feet, she can’t tell where the animal’s back feet are.
The dad-daughter duo works together to cover all the bases when they show. Earl fits and clips while Shannon does the washing, blow drying, brushing and grooming. Eventually, Shannon plans to learn to clip.
The young showman hopes to make a career out of her love for cattle. She plans to study an agriculture-related field in college, although veterinary medicine is off the list. She doesn’t like to see sick animals, she said.
Even though showing cattle can be a lot of work, Shannon has a good reason for choosing this particular hobby.
“You learn something new every day, practically,” she said.
And, she added, there’s just one word to describe why she likes to show — fun.