Cheating in the Show Ring, Part 2

Written by Erin Marvin
Copyright © South Weld Sun

<< Part I | Part II

In the last article I discussed the history of animal fairs and exhibitions, the price to raise a show-quality animal, and briefly touched on some reasons why some ethical people may be driven to cheat. This week, I plan to explore the reasoning behind cheating, some statistics on cheating and some of the “gray” ethical issues that come up when discussing cheating.

First off, simply why do people cheat? According to the Makkula’s Center for Applied Ethics, people cheat for two simple reasons. “People cheat to get ahead, even if they don't qualify for the advancement and even if they can't win a fair competition. Such people don't care about anyone else but themselves.” People also cheat because, “Some people cheat today because they simply cannot get everything done which needs to be done.” These reasons, besides being applicable in the show ring, seem to pop up in everyday life. Whether it’s cheating on the SAT, paying a cheaper price at the movies or cheating your employers out of millions of dollars in pensions, cheating seems to be a national trend that is on the rise.

However, cheating in the show ring can oftentimes be a gray area. There is a very fine line between “cheating” and “using your resources”. Some acts, such as injecting the animals with Clenbuterol or Lasix, is clearly a direct violation of fair and exhibition rules. Clenbuterol is a drug that accelerates the formation of the animal’s muscle mass, similar to anabolic steroids used by athletes. Lasix is a drug used to reduce the amount of water in an animal, making them feel firmer. There are also people who change the registration papers. They will change the birth date of their show animals, saying the animal was born later and thus actually older than the animals that they are competing against.

Unfortunately, these examples may actually seem minor in comparison to the real-life stories I could rely to you. In Texas, there was a boy who was weighing in a pig at his county fair. (For the non-showmen, an animal has to weigh inside of a prescribed range in order to be shown.) His animal was just below weight, so he decided to shove a garden hose down his throat and turn it on. The pig gained ten pounds in the process, but shortly died thereafter. There are stories of injecting air and oil underneath the skin of steers to make them feel fuller and show people beating the legs of their lambs in order to make them feel fuller.

Yet, what drives these people to cheat? For most, the consequences would seem to outweigh the risks - if you are caught, you get your ribbon and premium money stripped, and many shows will disqualify you from showing in the future.

There is no simple answer to this question. For many people, simple money compels them to cheat. If you take a look at the prices, it is easy to see why. For example, the record price for the Grand Champion steer at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was set in 2002 at $600,001. The 2006 Grand Champion lamb at the National Western Stock Show in Denver was offered $28,000. At prices like these, many people feel you can’t afford to not cheat.

Which brings us to another point - how prevalent is cheating in the show ring? With all of the media publication of cheating nowadays, it might seem to the non-agriculture citizen that it is quite rampant. After all, twelve of the top thirty-five lambs - including the Grand and Reserve Champion - at this year’s National Western Stock Show were disqualified for showing signs of being inserted drugs. (Eighteen were originally disqualified, six were later cleared following further testing.) There are many horror stories floating around of the atrocious things people will do to their animals in order to gain that blue ribbon. Are these stories widespread happenings, or rare occurrences?

In the December 2002 edition of the Journal of Extension in an article entitled “Measuring the Ethical Cognition Effects of a Videotape: Livestock Show Ethics Education Program” (Link), the producers of the video in question put together three questions to determine whether or not an action would be deemed ethical. The questions are as follows:

  1. Does the practice violate FDA law? An example is the use of a substance not cleared for food animal use (e.g., certain diuretics, tranquilizers, anti- inflammatory agents, and feed additives.)
  2. Is it a fraudulent misrepresentation of the animal? Or, more succinctly stated, is it fraud? Examples include false ownership, falsified birth dates and ownership dates, and surgical manipulation of the animal.
  3. Does the practice compromise the welfare of the animal? Examples include excessive short docking of lambs resulting in higher incidence of rectal prolapse, or severe restriction of feed and water to control weight.

If any of the questions can be answered with a “yes”, the practice should be deemed unethical, and should the owner should most definitely desist from continuing.

In this same study, a test containing eight different scenarios was given to a random group of people. An example of the scenario is: “The use of a diuretic (such as Lasix) in order to meet a weight requirement.” The participants were then asked to convey whether or not they felt the act was ethical. On this test, if you judged one scenario wrong, you would receive an automatic 0. You had to answer all questions correctly in order to receive a score. In one group of respondents, 64.1%were able to identify the difference between an ethical and non-ethical situation. Then, in a group that was taught the differences between right and wrong, 79.6% received a 100. This study just goes to show that show people know the difference between right and wrong.

Difficulties arise when the line between right and wrong is unclear. The use of a steer jock or another person raising your steer is one example. On a show steer bulletin board, , I asked people to share with me some stories that showed cheating. Towards the end of the posting, people began talking and debating this very example. Some were saying that the animal should remain at the show person’s house, and they should do all the work, while others said as long as the show person is making a hard effort to raise the animal themselves, it is perfectly okay to keep the animal at another location or receive help from others. It is up to the individual show and to the individual showman to decide whether or not they have crossed the line from “ethical” to “cheating”.

One disturbing factor, to me at least, is that many people perceive that everybody is cheating, and thus they must do so also in order to compete. In all reality, the people participating in unethical behavior is minute. Most people still try to win shows through hard work and perseverance. It is the reprehensible behavior of a select few that is putting on a negative pretense in the general public’s eye.

This behavior must cease, and many shows are now stepping up to the plate in order to ensure that cheaters receive their just reward.  In the next article, I will discuss what steps are being taken and what guidelines are already in place in order to deal with the situation of cheating.

Copyright © South Weld Sun