‘Pretty animals’ get dressed up for state fair

A clown, a spy and a presidential candidate strutted around with Santa Claus and his reindeer on Friday night, and no one blinked an eye.

More than 35 young exhibitors ages 5 to 21 and their animal friends competed in the annual Pretty Animal Contest at Quillen Arena to earn ribbons, prize money and bragging rights.

Each pair or group wore costumes based on individual themes. Some worked on their outfits for a month in advance while others worked on their costumes during fair week while spending time in the livestock exhibits as all animals in the contest were also entered in other competitions.

“It’s just super fun and good for bragging rights around the barn,” said Rebecca Sheahan of Clayton.

Ms. Sheahan participated in the contest for several years as a youth and now helps with local 4-H clubs.

“It’s a great opportunity to show the kids that we’re really just one big community. They work hard on their costumes and we’re here to support that,” she said.

Although the goal of the contest is for every child to have fun and earn a ribbon, some used it as a platform to advocate for an issue such as 5-year-old Ty Gustafson.

The first place awardee in the youngest category used the chance to spread awareness of melanoma and the need for sunscreen in memory of his father who died recently from the disease.

Blair Hill, 15, and Megan Davidson, 17, brought along a goat dressed as a chicken to put attention on avian flu, an idea which garnered them first-place bragging rights for their division as well.

Throughout the event, announcers read short bios on each contestant and included information about their choices of costume or platform, Ms. Sheahan said.

Scripts were provided by each contestant or group earlier in the week.

Other contestants were in it for the fun alone, such as 11-year-old Austin Jewell who dressed in patriotic attire.

“He wanted to be America, that was it,” his mother said during the event.

Mr. Jewell could be seen proudly waving signs that read, “Austin Jewell for President 2025,” and “God Bless America.”

Twins Shelby and Sydney Vincent, 20, chose the Broadway musical Wicked as their theme, an appropriate one at that according to their father.

“It’s very appropriate. One is good, and one is bad,” he joked after the girls walked out of the ring with their ribbon.

Top prize winners in each category on Friday night earned a ribbon and $60 in prize money with lesser amounts awarded to those who ranked lower in decreasing values.

All of the exhibitors came out of the event with a smile, proud of their moment in the ring, like 13-year-old Lake Vasey.

“I chose smoking, because my mom said it’s no joke to smoke,” she said. “But I’m just here to have fun. No stress.”

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