Success… at the end of a rope halter


They are barely able to walk and yet they pick up the end of rope halter and make their first debut in the show ring. We can hardly wait to watch them grow up and move closer to the other end of the halter.

Yet turn around and they are graduating from eighth grade, high school, an institute of higher learning, or college. We look at pictures to recall just how quickly they have grown up and learned the skills of showmanship, as well as a sense of self worth.


At first, it seemed so difficult and yet the opportunity to grow and learn with that calf provided them an opportunity to build self-confidence and feel good about that accomplishment.

At this time of year, our calendars are filled with recognition programs and end of school year details. It always occurs to me that these are not just endings, but beginnings.

Speakers at these events are filled with prose and I think back to my own high school graduation when the world rested on my shoulders and I was charged with finding my destiny AND to achieve a measure of success.


I was lucky to have had a 4-H background. It did change the course and direction of my life. As a Tufts University study points out, compared to other youth, 4-H members are 25 percent more likely to make a positive contribution to their communities and 41 percent are less likely to engage in risky behavior.

They have better grades, find more connections at school, and set higher goals and expectations for themselves. Compared to their classmates, they also did better in science, engineering and technology.

There is even a Facebook page where you can express how 4-H changed your life.


However, the proof is in the product and in the past few weeks, I have been so excited to read about the accomplishments of our dairy 4-H’ers at the FFA convention and this week, it will be the college students at the CFAES recognition banquet. What an honor it is to have four seniors who were involved in dairy judging to be recognized as those listed in the Top 20 Seniors.

If you are working with youth programs such as 4-H, FFA and breed junior associations, this is old news. Yet graduations are major turning points in our lives — financially, intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

As parents, we have watched our progeny scramble out into the world in search of success as if it were an item on a scavenger hunt. They are uncertain what it is, where to look for it, how much it will cost, or even if it is in season.

They will wake up early in the morning and pursue it till late at night. They will wonder if they are ever rich enough, secure enough, educated enough, fulfilled enough, or important enough to qualify for success.

Wait a minute, this sounds just like the same kinds of things I am asking myself today…

End of the rope halter

When I was that kid at the very end of the rope halter, I could not spell success, let alone define it. It can be elusive. Like the halter, it can tie you up with responsibility and yet provide you the loose end for more freedom and creativity. It can teach you to keep your eye on the goal and those judging mentors, or it can take you around the world on a global experience.

For every major accomplishment, there are countless other “knots” in the rope that teach us about perseverance.

Could it be that success is not a judgment of society, but something we give to ourselves? Is it wealth and honors on a resume, or simply a condition that lies within each one of us?

When you tackle challenges or grow from the experience, isn’t that success? When you feel as if you are at the end of your “rope” and yet you give your personal best, is that not success?


No matter what end of the rope halter is in your hand, perhaps success is a personal definition and maybe, just maybe, it is more important to know when you’ve got it.

To all the youth and their adult mentors who walked through my door or into my life AND are about to achieve a milestone, I wish you good fortune and the ability to define success as you grasp the “rope halter of life.”


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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.


  1. I loved this article! My oldest niece is five, this last weekend she helped Grandma and Grandpa sell a cow calf pair. She was at the end of that rope halter already and I know that all of us in the family are so proud to see her there! While other children her age are watching TV she is out in the barn helping with the calves and planning her future in the cattle industry. Thank you for putting into words the great importance of 4-H in the lives of children. With so many article explaining the budget cuts being made in the state 4-H program, I am glad to see an optimistic article like this!

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