SENECA FALLS, NY — Logging 558 miles round-trip is the farthest that David and Gretchen Van Echo have driven for goat showing. But the experience proved worthwhile for their daughter, Cheyenne, 13, who took home loads of awards and experience showing eight of the family’s goats.
Hailing from Rocky Ridge, MD, the Van Echos drove to New York so Cheyenne could participate in the Empire State Myotonic Goat Show, where the soon-to-be 8th grader won first in her showmanship class and overall Champion Showman, Youth Bred and Owned Champion and with 3rd Show Reserve Champion Showman.
The family has raised goats primarily for the children’s 4-H projects. When Cheyenne wanted to get into market animals 10 years ago, they looking into myotonic goats, also known as “fainting goats” and the animals’ gentle nature appealed to them. Two years ago, they began breeding goats.
Vina Cuddeback, president of the Empire State Myotonic Goat Show, said the show “helps get the breed name out there. Not a lot of people know they exist.”
When she talks about myotonic goats with passersby, she usually receives general, blank stares. Using the more familiar term, “fainting goats” elicits recognition from YouTube videos that show the most dramatic examples of the animals flopping over in a dead faint from a sudden noise.
“Many people don’t believe they’re real,” Cuddeback said. “I come across that quite a bit. We’ve had people at the show over the years start screaming from the side to see if they’ll fall over. It doesn’t work that way.”
The tendency to respond is based upon the individual goat. Some barely stiffen up; others full-on faint.
“It depends upon the goat and what triggers them,” Cuddeback said. “It could be they’re scared of something or if they’re really excited. One we had would go over if we shook the grain bucket. He just wanted to eat.”
The response is breed-inherent and doesn’t hurt the goats. After 10 to 20 seconds, they react normally as if it didn’t happen.
The breed’s gentle disposition and quirky fainting habit has endeared it to its enthusiasts. The show attracted exhibitors from Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.
Cheyenne said her mother showed her “the right things to do” to successfully show her goats. Although not at this show, her three younger brothers also show goats.
Through her experiences and Gretchen’s tutoring, Cheyenne has learned to “always keep your eyes on the judge. Always smile so you look like you’re having fun.”
She certainly practiced what she preached, carefully turning so her beaming smile faced wherever the judge walked while she examined the exhibitors and their animals. Cheyenne also kept her goats’ feet strategically positioned to better show off their body conformation.
Before the show, she carefully trims the hair near the goats’ feet so the judge can easily see their healthy hooves. She also gives each goat a bath “so they’re nice and soft”, cleans near their tails and shaves the hair in their ears.
“We just started showing myotonics last year,” Gretchen said. “We’ve learned a lot. We look forward to going again next year.”
She encourages exhibitors to persevere as they improve their showing techniques and skills.
“Just go out there,” she said. “It’ll get easier every time you go out in the show ring.”
She has seen some younger exhibitors appear very nervous in the ring but she assures them that they’ll feel “more and more comfortable. It becomes more natural. One thing my daughter realizes with riding horses, if you’re nervous the horse is nervous and it’s the same with goats.”
The Van Echos have shown — and hope to still show — at several other Myotonic goat shows more local to their home in Maryland, and a few in Pennsylvania.
“August and September are pretty crazy,” Gretchen said.
Though her children miss a week of school for one of their shows in September, they learn a lot through their showing experiences.
“You learn a lot of responsibility because you have to take care of your animals every day, especially if you’re showing them,” Cheyenne said.
No one receives a ribbon each day for cleaning stalls, feeding and watering, and brushing animals; however, Cheyenne believes that the long-term reward of showing success is worth the work.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s a great activity. I like it a lot when my goats show well.”
When she’s not handling her goats, Cheyenne likes riding horseback and playing lacrosse.
She is considering veterinary medicine or “being a human doctor” when she grows up.