watermelon kids at county fair

Ryder McClellan, 11, wins one round of the watermelon-eating contest at the Rio Arriba County Fair on July 30.

Four young children raced to devour stacks of watermelon slices while Po’Pay’s Pueblo Dancers performed a Butterfly Dance nearby. All the while, a handful of young farmers put their showmanship to the test, all vying for the top prize. 

It was the 68th annual Rio Arriba County Fair, taking place from July 27 through July 31 at the Rural Events Center in Abiquiú. 

On Saturday, exhibitors in the Round Robin Showmanship Contest demonstrated their knowledge of cattle to judges as they led the animals around the show ring. It was just one part of the event in which 4Hers also handled goats, swine and lambs. 

Wyatt Braithwaite, 16, of Chamita, won the contest for the second year in a row. 

“It’s something I enjoy doing,” Braithwaite said. “This is my hobby, basically my sport.”

Braithwaite said he has had success showing livestock at different fairs and shows across New Mexico and in neighboring states. He is looking forward to showing at the state fair this year as well as at some “jackpot shows” in Texas and Colorado. Braithwaite said that although his parents did not have experience raising livestock, they have supported his endeavors. He has learned a great deal about showing his animals from breeder Nick Hall. 

Braithwaite has been preparing as a showman for years by learning about the anatomy of different livestock and cultivating new techniques for showing them. He will be participating at the state fair, hoping to win grand champion.

“You have only a couple of minutes to get to know the animals, because they’re not normally your animals in the Round Robin Showmanship,” Braithwaite said. “So you have to learn as much as you can within that little bit of time you get.” 

Another competitor, Carley Hollander, 17, of White Rock, won the top two prizes — grand champion and reserve grand champion — for goats, as well as goat showmanship. 

Hollander said she has worked hard to prepare her “hard-headed” goats for the fair, and this year she won her first buckle. She has also gained experience attending jackpot shows recently, learning from other competitors. 

Though Hollander lives in Los Alamos County, she is one of many participants from the county who show livestock at Rio Arriba’s fair, since the Los Alamos Fair does not include livestock. 

Alicia Maez, a member of the Rio Arriba County Fair Association Board, said the partnership has been a meaningful one, forging friendly competition and socialization between exhibitors from both counties. 

“The invitation went out to Los Alamos County a few years back, and Los Alamos County has really been able to call this their home,” Maez said. “They are welcome here and they represent their county extremely well with the livestock they bring and the competition they bring. And now, new friendships have developed. It’s not Rio Arriba County and Los Alamos County. We’re all one.”

Maez said the fair rebounded this year after a slump in participation starting in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a lot of young exhibitors coming in right now,” she said. “A lot of young families that are starting up right now with their kids, and it’s very very promising. Those numbers keep growing.” 

And there are plenty of opportunities for young people without livestock to exhibit at the fair. 

Alydia Maestas, 15, of Ohkay Owingeh, showed goats and sheep, but she also baked, sewed and pounded on tin for other projects she exhibited inside. 

Maestas made a loaf of bread, leather coasters, a quilt, a wool vest, a turquoise beaded necklace, a birdhouse and a tin-framed mirror for this year’s fair. 

This was Maestas’s seventh year in 4H. She began taking on more and more projects as she discovered her love for crafting. 

Her mirror alone, which featured stained glass and “old-school tin work,” took a couple of months to complete. It sat in the exhibition hall sporting a big purple grand champion ribbon. Michelle Coriz helped Maestas to make the mirror, which she said involved cutting the glass and punching and bending the tin before pounding out designs with a single nail. 

Maestas’s parents believe the mirror is a particularly special creation of hers. Her mother couldn’t imagine selling it or giving it away; she said they will hang it in their living room, where everyone can see it. 

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