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A Final Fair-well

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Elsa Freise spent the month of July not only enjoying time with her family

Elsa Freise spent the month of July not only enjoying time with her family but also putting together the final preparations for her 10th and final county fair as a competitor. Beginning when she was 8, Elsa has spent the last decade in both the 4-H and FFA programs.

Getting fed lots of marshmallows and going for walks at least twice a day: the perks of two months at home during a pandemic — at least for the Freise’s fair pigs.

The theme of this spring has for so many been remembering what normal looked like and figuring out what it will look like moving forward. Early on, school moved online, sports were canceled, and events like graduation were postponed and changed. For seniors like Elsa Freise, having a last county fair meant having one normal thing despite COVID-19. 

Elsa waited to be one of the last showmen into the ring for FFA showmanship

Elsa waited to be one of the last showmen into the ring for FFA showmanship - which she won - on July 26, the first day of horse showing. Elsa started with the horse project her first year in 4-H. Since then she has worked with a couple of different horses, including the two she has now - Jaz and Lassie.

Elsa laid rocks out on the ground so she could draw her 4-H pattern

After finishing FFA showmanship and darting to the trailer and back to change clothes and horses, Elsa laid rocks out on the ground so she could draw her 4-H pattern in the dirt. Both FFA and 4-H showmanship used different patterns for the competition. Since the seniors’ FFA and 4-H classes were back-to-back, they had to learn the second pattern quickly.

Elsa’s mom Michelle Freise checks the position of Elsa’s competitor number

Elsa’s mom Michelle Freise checks the position of Elsa’s competitor number after pinning it onto her FFA jacket before pig showmanship on Wednesday morning, July 29, 2020. Freise showed one pig in both 4-H and FFA showmanship and both again in the afternoon for the market classes.

“This last county fair is kind of like a graduation in a sense,” Elsa said in anticipation of fair week, noting that she has been in 4-H for almost as long as she has been in school. “It’s crazy that this big part of my life, something that I have been involved in since I was 8 years old, is coming to an end and that this county fair will be the closing chapter.”

Elsa joined 4-H as early as she could — nearly 10 years ago. Since then, she has participated in countless projects, traveled across the country and the world, and served as a leader both locally and at the state level. This year, she finished her 10th and final Johnson County Fair with the 4-H and FFA programs. 

Elsa shows her brother Zack an easier way to use the uncapping fork to remove the honey

Trying to remove the honey from the frame, Elsa shows her brother Zack an easier way to use the uncapping fork to remove the honey. “We started because of COVID actually,” Elsa said, explaining the addition of the beekeeping project to her work this year. With more free time because of COVID, the Freises decided to try out the beekeeping project, helping the county to update its out-of-date hive and get new bees. Elsa checked the bees’ food supply and the health of the hive, while her mom and brother and the Farris family inventoried all the beekeeping supplies that were in extension storage. Zack, who also did beekeeping this year, plans on continuing the beekeeping project after his sister leaves.

Elsa clicks and waves her arms to help Grady Alger bring his horse up to a jog

Elsa clicks and waves her arms to help Grady Alger bring his horse up to a jog during his practice showmanship pattern on Monday, July 6, 2020. Elsa taught the showmanship section of the Monday night horse classes this year, teaching kids proper techniques, helping them learn new patterns and quizzing there with sample trivia the judge might ask. The day before horse showmanship, Elsa said she was not only nervous for herself but for everyone since she helped coach them all. During the award ceremony at fair, Elsa was recognized for her work and dedication to the horse project, specifically for her teaching at horse nights.

Elsa applied multiple coats of shampoo in a rinse and repeat cycle

Showmanship and halter classes are largely focused on appearance, leading Elsa to spend the morning before the the two shows washing her two horses. Because white is especially difficult to get clean, she applied multiple coats of shampoo in a rinse and repeat cycle. After the shampoo, she used a toothbrush and toothpaste along the cornet band and tops of the hooves to remove more of the stuck-on dirt.

Elsa continued her go-to projects like horse, market swine, art and agronomy. But she also worked on a few new projects like beekeeping — a product of wanting to stay busy during the pandemic — and a presentation on her 4-H trip to Ghana. 

“The Freise family has not been bored in this pandemic, that’s for sure,” Elsa said when looking back on the past few months. 

Coming into the fair, Elsa was excited not only to show off the hard work she has put in with her horses, but also just to catch up with friends and family. Because of COVID-19 shutdowns, she wasn’t able to spend as much time with friends this summer as she would have liked and being able to just hang out was an exciting thought. 

A graduation party also wasn’t possible for the Freise family earlier in the summer, so many members of her extended family came to the fair to celebrate her graduation from school and 4-H all in one. 

“It will be like a sendoff party/fair,” Elsa described. 

As the fair wrapped up and the focus shifted from county to state fair, Elsa reflected on how normal the fair felt and how little it felt like a quarantine or a pandemic during fair week. 

Elsa spent a few hours clipping pigs

Just as horses are washed and have their hair trimmed, show hogs need to be clean and clipped as well. Using clippers with a few different guard lengths, Elsa spent a few hours on Tuesday afternoon of fair week getting her and her brother’s pigs trimmed and ready for a bath. As she trimmed the belly of one, the second nibbled on her hair while the third napped in the back corner.

Elsa's family watched as she showed a hog during round robin showmanship competition

After winning the FFA horse showmanship earlier in the week, Elsa qualified to compete in the round robin competition on Friday afternoon, July 31, 2020. During round robin, competitors show first the animal they won showmanship with, and then proceed to trade and show the other four species. Elsa’s extended family joined her parents and brother to watch her during the competition, gathering around the fence of the pig pen during her third of five total rotations.

Elsa leaves her truck to get dinner

Friday’s round robin competition marked the final competition for Elsa. After the show, the livestock awards and after taking care of her horses for the evening, Elsa left her stuff and the pig’s dinner in the truck to get herself some dinner from the Papa Bino’s food truck.

With family come and gone, and focus now moving toward the next step, both Elsa and her parents are ready to see what comes next. 

“It’s bittersweet because you are happy that she gets to move on to her next stage in life, but you’ll miss it,” Casey Freise, Elsa’s dad, said. “(There are) a lot of good memories, but it’s time to move on to the next stage, and she’s ready. It was a good last fair.”

While county fairs are in the past for Elsa, state fair performances with her horses and work as an incoming state FFA officer are arriving quickly. Her work with the FFA state leadership team will continue for the next year, offering a link between these two phases of her life. 

Elsa laughs and Elizabeth Farris laugh with FFA advisor Taylor Rieniets

Elsa laughs and Elizabeth Farris laugh with the new Buffalo High School FFA advisor Taylor Rieniets, not pictured, during the beef show on July 30. The homemade lemonade stand is run by Buffalo’s FFA members and was open throughout the week for new cups or refills. Elsa worked the full shift with Elizabeth as a few other FFA members joined here and there. Joining Elsa in working at the stand was her cousin Addison Baird who was visiting the Freise’s for fair week.

“I’m excited to go to the next chapter of my life. If 4-H is not part of my future right away, then that’s fine. I want to explore everything life brings and try new things,” Elsa said. “I definitely will always be a volunteer for 4-H in the future and always an advocate for 4-H, no matter wh ere I am in life.”

Later this month, Elsa will head north to Sheridan College to begin her college career, which she hopes to continue at the University of Wyoming. 

“I’m one of those people that loves a lot of different things,” Elsa said about what she will be working toward. “It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life at age 18.”

Elsa talks with friend Olivia Wasinger at the end of the day

Relaxing on one of the sheep stalls, Elsa talks with friend Olivia Wasinger at the end of the day on Friday, July 31. Beginning in the pig barn, the pair walked through the goat and sheep barns before returning to the pig barn to feed the pigs dinner.

Elsa rides on her own after helping Tera Boden prepare for the fair

With the sound of the fair opener concert in the background, Elsa spent the afternoon with Tera Boden and her horse practicing for the fair and clipping his bridal path, face and feet. Afterwards, Elsa spent time riding on her own. She warmed up and worked on some horsemanship patterns before finally calling it a day well after the sun disappeared. After enjoying a final county fair, Elsa is excited for the next stage in her life. She says that 4-H will always be a part of her, but she is ready to explore new things.

Photojournalist

Jessi Dodge joined the Bulletin as a photojournalist and a Report for America corp member in 2020. If you have ideas or comments, reach out at jessi@buffalobulletin.com.

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