Participating — and winning — at some livestock shows just means more than at other shows, according to the two livestock exhibitors who won the biggest prizes at the 2021 Washington Town & Country Fair Market Steer Show. 

“I am proud to win here because I know that there is more competition. There’s more steers here, and that makes it a higher quality show,” said Kaitlynn Van De Wiele, a member of the Rockford 4-H Club and a student at St. Clair High School, who exhibited this year’s grand champion market steer. 

Hallie Giesike, an alumna of the Washington High School chapter of the National FFA Organization, exhibited this year’s reserve grand champion market steer. She agreed with Van De Wiele that winning at the Washington Town & Country Fair means more than winning at others.

“When I go to my spring shows, I see them as more of a practice round for (this fair). You meet new people and enjoy it, but those shows are all about getting to know your animal, hopefully to have a little fun and prepare for the summer shows,” said Giesike, who transitioned from showing market pigs to showing market steers two years ago. 

Giesike said she was overjoyed when judge Jenna Siegel, a student at Iowa State University, selected her 1,240-pound steer as reserve grand champion. “It replays in my head. It will be stuck in my head, so I can always remember that feeling of joy,” she said. “Plus, I have the pictures to remind me.”

What makes her reserve grand champion finish even more memorable is the unique bond that Giesike said she shares with the steer. 

“You are working with them almost every day, sometimes twice a day. So when you are spending that much time with them, you make a connection,” she said. “I feel that connection between him and I is one-of-a-kind. ... It takes a lot of walking, some blood, sweat, tears and rope burn — which is never fun to get — but in the end it all pays off.”

Van De Wiele agreed, adding that winning the top prize made all of the hours that she spent working with her 1,245-pound steer, often rising before dawn to rinse, dry, brush and refine the steer’s and her own showmanship skills, worth it. She and a pair of friends, Rylea Black and Kristen Girardier, would spend up to three hours a day brushing the steer. 

“You’re never for sure once you’re in a ring how it is going to go or what that one judge’s opinion is going to be of your animal. ... You just have to work your tail off out there to have him look the best according to your ability, trusting that you’ve done all that you can before the show,” she said.

Van De Wiele, who has been exhibiting steers for six years, said this is her highest-ever finish at the Town & Country Fair. “This is one of those things that the more effort you put into it, the more reward that you’ll get, and this is a pretty great reward.”

Van De Wiele said she hopes she will see more young people entering steers in next year’s competition and offered advice to those potential future competitors.

“It is a long process, and you don’t see results right away,” she said. “There have been times that I have wanted to stop, to give up, but working with a steer teaches you that you just have to keep going. You can’t give up. You have to believe in yourself.”