Ox Teamster’s Challenge 18th Year
by Nan Clark of Chesterfield, MA
photos by Tracey Eller of Florence, MA
So what’s all the fuss about this agricultural event at the Cummington, MA, Fair? Why is it so popular? Just what is an ox anyway? Not everyone knows.
Oxen start out as bull calves from a cow and a bull of any Bovine breed. As mature bulls they would be capable of breeding and they are NOT docile animals. To become manageable they need to be neutered. This castration is usually done during the first year of their life. Every teamster has his/her own theory on what age is the best. A neutered calf is then called a STEER. He will be a steer until he is four years old, at which time he becomes an OX. Age is the only difference between a steer and an ox.
When a pair of calves is carefully chosen to become an Ox Team they should be housed together, fed and watered together, yolked together, and exercised together from the get-go. There are as many training methods as there are teamsters. Like children, love and patience produce the best results. A willing team is a joy to work with for many years.
Teamsters come in all sizes, all ages, male and female. The best ones I have known have special qualities: Kindness, Patience, Cleanliness, Keen Judgment, Good Sportsmanship and a ready Sense of Humor—to name only a few. In New England the many 4-H Clubs produce some of the most capable, finest teamsters.
Mernie Clark, who designed and judged the Challenge, believed that contestants should be able to guide their teams with voice commands and squeaks, using very little whip. In this complicated course, it helps greatly if oxen know the meaning of “Come Up A Step”, “Side Step Haw”, “Side Step Gee”, “Heads Up”, “Haw To Me”, as well as more familiar commands. So much for OXEN 101.
Mernie Clark built it and they came. For 18 years!! Challenge 2012 enjoyed perfect summer weather with no hurricanes on the horizon. Ten teams were ready to do their best for their handlers. Our usual Judge, Joe Hillman, was not available. Fortunately, a previous judge, Don Silkey, was able to fill in on short notice. Lloyd Cutting, Sebastian Ross and I were at our posts. A new crew member was Buz Pixley who learned quickly & helped wherever needed. Our expert professional photographer, Tracey Eller, gave us fantastic pictures that tell the Challenge story in proper order – much better than my words.
There’s the real story. Oh Yes. Who won? Once again the Timekeeper is of the utmost importance. David Armbruster and Tom Jenkins each had perfect scores from Judge Silkey. David won by only 9 seconds!! Tom will be aiming for first in 2013. Suspense is one reason this educational Challenge is so popular. It is also popular with the crew, some of whom have been on duty all 18 years. That includes Mernie Clark, Steve Clark, Joe Hillman, Don Silkey, Lloyd Cutting and myself, Nan Clark. The Challenge also has a dedicated group of sponsors whose $ donations are added to the generous premiums, trophy and rosette ribbons offered by the Fair officials. All in all we are a crowd-pleasing group. Come see us on August 24, 2013, at the Cummington, MA Fair. We promise a spirited, suspenseful show!