A little extra financial help goes a long way, so the Minnesota State Fair Foundation has a grant program for first-time visitors to bring their animals for display at the fair. They are called BELLE Scholarships, the beginning of the Exhibitor Livestock Learning Experience. Grants ranging from $250 to $500 cover travel costs, feed, and animal display supplies.
This year Denica Slater of Morris, Minnesota, is one of those lucky grant winners. On Friday, I spoke to Denica and her guide Kiana Dolezal. Kianna is an experienced hand in displaying all types of livestock. The two young women showed off the bunnies at the show this weekend.
DENICA SLEITER: So I’m DENICA SLEITER. I’ve been on the Rabbit Project for three years, and this is my first trip to the State Fair.
Kathy Werzer: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Denica Slater: Yes.
Kathy Werzer: Tell me about your rabbits.
Denica Slater: I have a Flemish giant here at the state fair. It is light gray, and weighs 10 pounds.
Kathy Werzer: It’s a pretty big bunny. Fabulous. And by the way, have you ever shown rabbits?
DENICA SLEITER: No.
Kathy Werzer: No? So this is new to you?
DENICA SLEITER: Yes.
Kathy Werzer: Right. I’m kind of curious, as the mentor on this team, how can you help Denica?
Kiana Dolezal: I went to her house and I helped her out with some tips on showbiz. So in the spirit of showing off, you are introducing yourself to show your animal the best. And so there are a lot of little tips and tricks to do it really well and win, and that was the main thing I did. She helped to identify some of the colors of the small pieces she had in her home.
Kathy Werzer: Right.
Kiana Dolezal: And that was my duty as a guide, and it was just to give her advice and try to figure out some things.
Kathy Werzer: The art of appearing is not easy. I think people think all this is animal. Obviously the animal is being judged, right? But showmanship is a big, big deal.
Kiana Dolezal: Yes. You have shown the skill of each animal, and rabbits are the most difficult. In my opinion, my personal experience, rabbits are the most difficult, because there is a book in which they can ask you anything in this book about any of the breeds, and they can find out the correct answer. And so it’s very difficult, but it’s also very fun when you do a good job.
Kathy Worzer: What’s the biggest takeaway, and the biggest thing you learned when you two met and talked about showmanship?
DENICA SLEITER: She’s probably really good at the art of appearance.
Kathy Worzer: What has been your biggest surprise with all the things you’ve learned about showmanship?
DENICA SLEITER: I knew that when you brought your rabbit to the table to be judged, I thought the people standing there with their rabbit in their arms didn’t know what was going on, but now I know that’s actually people who know what they’re doing.
Cathy Forser: That surprises me, because I thought that when you’re in the spirit of the show, you have your animal, your rabbit in this case, at the table being judged, that rabbit is in itself, isn’t it? And you’re trying to show that bunny at his best. But are you allowed to carry rabbits?
Kiana Dolezal: So when you get to the table, you’re not going to put the animal in until the judge calls you because it shows you’re a bit more professional, and you’re waiting for the judges’ approval. Because the ex rabbit might have peed on it, so they want to clean it up first. Maybe they switch tables or something. So if you just stand there and wait to be invited, the judge will be ready to judge and do things.
Kathy Werzer: It must be really hard.
Kiana Dolezal: It could be, yeah, because you don’t know what questions to ask you. You never know who’s in the ring with you.
Kathy Werzer: Denica, are the judges’ questions tough?
DENICA SLEITER: Yes, most of the time.
Kathy Werzer: What’s the hardest question yet?
DENICA SLEITER: They were all very difficult, especially when you’re under stress. You completely forget everything you know.
Kathy Werzer: Believe me, I understand that. Ok, so your how-to is really interesting. Has this been done before in 4-H?
Kiana Dolezal: I think it was done earlier, about a year ago, on the BELLE Grant, and I think they’re trying to keep it going because it’s really good for the new 4-H’ers to get someone who’s been as fair as I did, or even tell them little more.
Kathy Werzer: When you get into the ring, what’s your judgment on what the rabbit’s judgment is?
KIANNA DOLEZAL: So when appearance skill is not, a rabbit can be judged based on what the Standard says is the ideal breed for that rabbit. So I have a satin, and when I go to the ring, the judge looks to make sure their hair is shiny, which is due to a boom. This is what they are famous for. And that their backs are arched the right way, they’re built right, and they’re filled in. Firstly, it is a healthy thing, and secondly, what is the purpose of the breed.
So for my satin, they are used for meat and fur in the past and now, anytime, other than on display. And so the book will tell you exactly how it should be, and that’s what you judge.
Kathy Werzer: Oh, wow. And so, as I said earlier, what fair game question might a judge ask you?
Kiana Dolezal: Only in the Art of Appearance. In regular classes, you put your rabbit on the table right away. You put them on the spot to get them to show off their best thing. And then the judge will come, and they will feel the hare. And they’ll put them in their way.
Kathy Werzer: Right. Well, what does it mean to be at the show?
DENICA SLEITER: It’s so much fun. There are many things that happen at once.
Kathy Werzer: What’s your favorite fair food?
DENICA SLEITER: Martha’s Cakes.
Kathy Werzer: It’s a good idea. That is a good idea. By the way, I confessed to you before we even started our conversation that I did 4-H when I was a kid, showed a dog and did a photoshoot. What would you tell kids these days about being a 4-H’er? Why is it a good thing?
DENICA SLEITER: Well, first off, it’s really fun, and you learn a lot of different skills with different types of animals. it is fun. Really enjoyable.
Kathy Worzer: It’s fun. What would you say to a guy who might think of 4-H?
Kiana Dolezal: Well, I think even if you don’t do animals and you do this shoot, or you do the dog, or you do the pet project, where you bring your pet cat and talk about it, it lets you get out there, meet people, try new things, get out of Your comfort zone in a good and fun way. And if you decide to do cattle or horses, anything like that, you can just try things out. Just have fun and try what you might enjoy in a profession or something like that.
Kathy Werzer: By the way, as a mentor, how do you feel watching a young man like Denica Blossom?
Kiana Dolezal: Well, it was really fun. I went to her county fair, saw her in the best lineup of the show and got a high spot on that spot and then won the show class. So it was really fun to see her take some of these tips and even use some of her own techniques and really succeed in her interruption. I hope you will do the same in the state.
Kathy Werzer: I hope you do, too. our end.
Denica Slater: Thank you.
Kathy Werzer: It must have been really fun. I wish you all the best. It was fun seeing you both. Thank you for visiting the booth.
Kiana Dolezal: Yeah, no problem.
Kathy Worzer: Denica Slater and her mentor, Kiana Dolezal. They are both 4 hours old and have shown rabbits at the show this year. By the way, Denica ended up with a blue ribbon and took second place in her class for her rabbit. Congratulations Denica. By the way, if you’re curious, there are some great videos on YouTube. My favorites are posted by Hip-Hop Rabbitry from Treyah.
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