Learning curve: Senior reflects on life lessons

By Paris Walther | Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013

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He wasn’t much to look at in the first place. The small frame didn’t promise much growth, and his chest was pretty narrow. What muscle potential he might have had was lost in the matted hair stuck up in little tufts all over his body.

To top it off, I wasn’t really sure what breed he was. I think I should have known from the beginning that a free goat wasn’t going to be a blue-ribbon goat. But he was healthy, and he was free. And his little face kind of stole my heart, so he became my new “show goat.”

Paris Walther

Paris Walther

It all started when I began to dive deeper into the ag classes I was taking my freshman year of high school. Approaching my ag teacher, I told him I wanted to get involved with the FFA, and I wanted to start by showing an animal.

He was eager to assist me and asked if I needed help buying a goat.

“No,” I said proudly. “We found one for free, and I think he’ll do pretty good.”

He smiled and told me that he would help me any way that he could. I didn’t think that was necessary. Having already owned horses, cattle and dogs, I thought I knew what went into raising and caring for animals. And I did. I just didn’t know what went into raising and caring for a spoiled, entitled “show goat.”

My dad sat me down one day and told me some things I needed to start doing with my newly named goat, Felipe.

“Paris, you have to start exercising this goat every day,” he said. “He needs to learn to be led, and you need to help him build up some muscle, too.”

I thought this was reasonable, and so the next day I got Felipe out of the pen and began to happily drag him up and down our driveway. “He’ll get used to it,” I thought. “This is just the transitioning period. By next week, we’ll be skipping around the yard.”

Day after day we worked. When teaching him to lead, I used a pressure and release technique that works well on horses, but poorly on Felipe. He would mostly scream into my face as I put pressure on the little show chain around his neck. I’d get so mad that I would do reasonable things like scream in his face, too. As a result, he would typically just slip out of the chain and make a run for the nearby highway.

After a couple of fun-filled weeks, my dad sat me down again and told me that the next step to showing a goat was teaching Felipe to “set up” in front of the judges at the show. This is a technique that people do to make the animal stand still and straight in order for the judges to take a closer inspection of the animal.

At the time, I wasn’t really sure what all of this entailed, and so I did what any respectable American citizen does when they’re unsure about something – I Googled it. “How to set-up a goat in front of judges at a show.” Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself as I printed out a How-To page and quickly headed outside to work with Felipe.

The county show was approaching, and I was more than a little excited to show Felipe for the first time. We had been working hard, and I felt like we were ready to compete. I had purchased a special shampoo that would make him look nice and shiny for the judges and had even bought myself a new shirt to wear in the show ring.

One of the things that needed to be done before the show was to take Felipe to the high school ag barn to have him weighed so that we could determine what class to put him in.

As I walked my goat into the barn, I couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by all the other large and muscular goats in the pens. I knew Felipe wasn’t the largest goat there, but I felt like he would do well in a class of goats his size. I pushed him onto the scale and watched the numbers crawl to a pathetic 45 pounds. Figuring this would put him in the smallest class of goats, I started to take him out.

“Paris, this goat is too small to show,” one of the men at the scales said. “He needs to be at least 70 pounds to make weight.”

This was a surprise to me. My goat definitely wasn’t underfed with his plump little belly poking out at the sides.

“What’s the matter then? How could he not have made weight?” I asked.

One of the men, trying not to hurt my feelings, looked at me and quietly said, “I think he might have some Pygmy breed in him.”

If I had a nickel for every time I failed at something I attempted, I could pay for my college education. It is difficult to work so hard for something and realize that it falls short of something else or of others.

But I also think that comparison is the thief of joy.

Comparing your downfalls to someone else’s highlights is a recipe for disaster. If I had spent a large sum of money on a good show goat, things would have turned out much differently. But honestly, what good does it do to be upset about an event in your life that taught you something?

It might have been pretty embarrassing walking out of the ag barn that day with my little goat, but I was also kind of proud.

We did the best we could with what we had and what little we knew, and I was finally able to lead my goat out of the building without screaming at him.

Paris Walther is graduating from Decatur High School.

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