'Cow Olympics' at Oregon State Fair Test Bovine-Handler Bond

Aug 31, 2013

There’s an unusual sporting event at the Oregon State Fair that involves athletes that could end up on your dinner table.

With just moments left until the “Cow Olympics,” the cattle were clearly restless. Before them was a six-part obstacle course.

As a crowd watches, these animals will have to negotiate hazards that are clearly out of their comfort zone. There’s nothing that's going to hurt them or put their health at risk; just challenges like walking over a sheet of plywood meant to resemble a bridge, or crossing a blue tarp that looks like a puddle of water. There is also the slalom, which is dotted with blue barrels. 

"If your cow touches any of the blue barrels, every time you touch a blue barrel, you get a five-second penalty," said organizer Cynthia DuVal said.

DuVal says while the course may look easy to a human, for a cow, “It’s not natural. She says show cows like the participants rarely have to negotiate things like wooden bridges or farm streams.

And when the competition kicked off, it was clear that some of the cattle just weren't interested. Hayden Williams of Sequim, who was competing in the Junior Division, finally to coax his cow through the course.

"Definitely not first place, but maybe around second,” Williams said.

Williams’ cow is a 7-month-old miniature Hereford named Reece. He describes Reece as “nice, friendly, calm, lazy, hungry."

What would it mean to Reece to win the Cow Olympics?

"I don't know if it would really mean anything to him but getting him to get a workout,” Williams said, adding that alone is worth the effort.

Brianna Hafner of Silverton, Oregon competed in the youth division. She rushed through the course with her yearling bull.

“He's got the cutest face,” she said.

But Hafner isn't just here to show off her young bovine; she's here to win. Hafner is familiar with the sweet taste of victory. She won last year.

"It felt pretty good,” she said.

In the end, Hafner came in third in her age group this year. But compared to some of the more serious competitions at the fair, the stakes, no pun intended, are pretty low in the Cow Olympics. You get a ribbon, and, well, that's pretty much it.

High schooler Jake Johnson is a veteran of Oregon State Fair livestock competitions.

"This is just one of the more fun things to get the stress off people's shoulders, because these shows can be really stressful, so fun things like this keep your mind off it for a little while,” he said.

But the Cow Olympics do have a point to them, according to DuVal.

"With any of the animals, you need to have a bond, a trust between the animal and their handler. This kind of encourages it and bonds them together even more,” she said.

And DuVal says that bond can make a difference when it's time for the marquee livestock events, where serious bragging rights are on the line.