For Worthington family, quality time with steers

Last modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When Samantha Mason says "haw," her pair of steers turn to the left. When she says "gee," the cows swing to the right.

And when the 12-year-old from Worthington says "whoa," they stop and wait for further commands.

"You have to make them want to do it for you," she says while petting her pair, Buck and Mitt, to show her appreciation for their work.

Samantha has been training steers for competition with her father, Fran Mason, since she was 6 years old.

"You'd think when I was little I would have been scared of bulls that were like 1,600 pounds, but no," Samantha says.

Instead, she found herself to be a natural with the animals, coaxing them to do things that sometimes even her father, a seasoned trainer, couldn't get out of them.

"She can do it very naturally, Sam can. And she's very good at it," Fran Mason says. "She's usually very good, very smooth with them and they like her."

This makes competition day a little easier.

It's clear walking into the Masons' house that Samantha has been successful. The inside of the front door is covered in ribbons that they have received from different steer competitions.

And the door is not big enough to hold all of the ribbons. The collection extends to the walls of the kitchen, and Samantha's dresser in her bedroom is crowded with trophies.

Samantha competes at several fairs annually, including the Cummington Fair, in four classes of steer competition: showmanship, stone boat, cart and trained steer.

Showmanship is all about presentation of the animals, says Fran Mason, who judges the competition at some fairs.

Stone boat and cart are both pulling events, where the steers compete to pull the stone boat or cart the farthest.

Trained steer is where teamsters such as Samantha demonstrate the control they have over the animal by performing tricks, such as having the animals come to the trainers by calling to them.

To successfully perform the trick, the trainer must bring the animal to a stop, walk away without the cows moving, and then successfully call to them and have them come.

It can be a frustrating trick to practice.

Sometimes the cows amble up behind Samantha as soon as she turns her back to walk away, starting the process over. Other times, after receiving a quick hit to the nose to keep the steers in place, the wayward steers learn their lesson a little too well and refuse to come.

But after some practice, Samantha and her steers have nailed it, earning cheers from her father and mother, Alison Mason, who has also trained steers.

"The kids like doing things with the calves, but at the same time when they don't respond then it's frustrating," Fran Mason says. "But then I always explained to them if you practiced more with them there would be fewer problems. And it does get easier."

Samantha also trains her steers to allow her to pick up their hooves, respond to voice commands, pull and let her walk between them.

Because cows are creatures of habit, constant and consistent practice is essential to the training process. Samantha receives her cows when they are only days old and immediately begins training them - first to walk behind her on a rope, then to walk as a pair, and eventually to pull and perform tricks.

While activities such as summer camp and soccer practices sometimes make it difficult for Samantha to take the steers out for practice, she tries to go out as regularly as possible.

It helps that this is a family activity.

At first, working with the steers was an activity reserved for Sam and her dad after her twin sisters, Taylor and Olivia, were born.

"By the time the babies were born and stuff you didn't get much attention, but this was one thing me and Dad did together, and Mom would help when Dad wasn't home," Sam says.

Like many father-daughter pairings, the two bicker slightly as Samantha trains the steers, and her dad trains her. Eye rolls are abundant, and voices are occasionally raised as directions go ignored or are considered unwelcome.

"I don't know if it's easier to train the kids or the steers," Fran Mason says.

But there is an undertone of affection as he passes down his hobby to his children.

Now that the twins are 6, they have their own pair of steers to share, involving the whole family.

"That's our family time, together with the bulls," Fran Mason says.


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