By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: Fair ambassadors love animals

Rockne Roll / News-Register##2016 Yamhill County Fair & Rodeo ambassadors Erin Rush, Samantha Roff and Courtney Croft.
Rockne Roll / News-Register##2016 Yamhill County Fair & Rodeo ambassadors Erin Rush, Samantha Roff and Courtney Croft.

Animals have a major influence on Courtney Croft, Samantha Roff and Erin Rush, the three young ambassadors chosen for this year’s Yamhill County Fair & Rodeo. 

“As a little girl, I wanted all the animals on the farm,” Croft recalled.

Roff called her quarter horses, mare Classy and gelding Jasper, her best friends. And Rush, who has a place in her heart for all animals, said she would find it difficult to say no to any new pet.

They’ll be especially close to their animals this week, as they’ll be spending their days and nights at the fairgrounds in Northeast McMinnville. In addition to awarding ribbons and greeting guests to the fair, which runs Wednesday through Saturday, Roff and Rush will be showing horses and Croft will be showing goats and pigs. 

Both equestriennes have been riding and showing since their were children. They’ve been to many Yamhill County Fair events, always as participants.

But Croft, who will have two goats and two pigs in this year’s competition, showed a goat for the first time just last year. She has experienced the fair mostly from the spectator side.

She recommends it highly to others, citing, “Lots of rides and games ... booths with information, jewelry, John Deere tractors, art, all kinds of things ... paintings and sewing exhibits ... entertainment.”

The highlight for her, though, as for many other fairgoers, is the livestock. In addition to pigs, goats and horses, visitors can see all sorts of farm animals and pets — rabbits, chickens, cows, sheep, llamas, etc. 

“You can walk around the barns and see the different sizes and colors, the ones that are social or less social,” Croft said.

A member of both 4-H and FFA herself, she said the youths tending the animals are happy to talk about their charges. If you ask her about her pigs, for instance, she will introduce them by name, Freeman and Not Howard.

“Pigs have big personalities,” she said, and that’s particularly true of Not Howard. “He’ll do anything for cookies,” she said, explaining how vanilla Oreos make for great positive reinforcement when she was training him.

Croft, daughter of Skip and Judi Croft, didn’t name her goats. She let her younger brother, Coleman, do the honors.

She’s steeled herself against treating them like pets. It’s difficult enough to part with an animal she’s raised as is, even though she understands their value as a source of meat.

One of the reasons she became a fair ambassador, she said, was to help others understand that. “You can care for animals and treat them well, and still value them for their meat,” she said.

She will sell both her goats and her pigs at the FFA market animal auction, always a high point of the fair. The auction is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6.

Croft, Roff and Rush are looking forward to every event at the fair. They’re also eager to see friends from all over the county whom they’ve met at previous events.

“We hang out, spend time together, do goofy things,” said Roff, recalling how a group of teens played a late-night kickball game in the arena one year.  

The daughter of Ken and Teresa Roff, she has been active in 4-H for nine years, ever since she became old enough to join the program.

4-H has taken her to the fair every year.

A rider since age 5, she shows her horses in both Western and English performance classes. She has taken part in Oregon High School Equestrian Team events and open shows, as well.

She also serves as secretary for the horse leaders, and is serving this year as a junior horse superintendent. Year-round, she is a 4-H county ambassador and member of the advisory board for youth reps.

“I really love animals,” Roff said. “I just love Classy and Jasper to pieces.” She also has a dog, Nala, which she calls “my third best friend.” 

She said she and her horses work as a team during competitions.

Off-duty, the horses, especially Jasper, exhibit their personalities. She keeps a bag of peppermints handy to reward them.

“Jasper’s not so used to being close to a big crowd — or around bulls — so riding into the rodeo grand entry may be interesting,” Roff said with a laugh. “The bronc riding may start early.”

Rush also has been in 4-H since fourth grade. That year, she began showing both horses and market lambs.

The latter were part of a money-raising project to help with future college expenses. For a little girl, she said, “Lambs are something easy to breed and raise.”

She was successful at raising lambs with well-defined musculature that pleased the judges. But “it was really hard to say goodbye to them” after the auction, she said. 

That’s one of the reason she has focused on horses in recent years. She and her mare, Dusti, have competed in pole-bending and other fast-paced gaming events. Like Roff, she has qualified for the Oregon State Fair horsemanship competition for several years in a row now.

“Dusti is phenomenal at gaming,” she said. “She’s level-headed and she takes good care of me.” 

In addition to Dusti, Rush owns a paint mare named Phoebe. Both horses are good ambassadors for the fair and their breeds.

Dusti, a very large quarter horse, “a gentle giant,” enjoys meeting children and having the sides of her face scratched.  

Some visitors have told Rush they’re afraid of horses. But meeting Dusti has helped them conquer that fear.

“She’s so gentle,” her owner said.

Rush, Roff and Croft were among half a dozen finalists for the ambassador positions, which come with $1,000 scholarships.

While the scholarships were enticing, all three had additional reasons for wanting to be ambassadors. 

“It’s another way to give back to my county and the fair,” Roff said. “The fair is my favorite thing every summer.”

Rush said she also wanted to give her time and talents to the fair.

“The fair has played such a big role in my life,” she explained. “It’s helped me develop as a person, to develop leadership and citizenship, and it’s given me a sense of community.”

They applied during their senior year of high school and went through an interview process. All three boned up on Yamhill County Fair history before the interviews — then didn’t have to answer one question on that topic.

“And I was going to nail it!” Roff said.

As they were chosen, they began a rigorous round of speaking engagements and appearances promoting the fair. They spoke to Rotary and other service clubs. They went to the St. Paul Rodeo and rode in parades in Sheridan, Carlton and other cities.

Rush said her favorite parade was the one in Yamhill, where she had graduated from high school a month earlier. She and her fellow ambassadors rode along Highway 47 on a wagon pulled by six black draft horses.

At the Yamhill Derby Days parade and other events, the ambassadors often were surrounded by young fans. “The little kids all want to meet us,” Croft said, wondrously.

She and her fellow ambassadors will have plenty of opportunities to meet people, young and old, at the fair. Between their own competitions, they will be a presence on the fairgrounds, giving directions or suggesting things for visitors to check out. 

“One of my favorite things is to see how far kids have come in raising and showing their animals,” Rush said. 

After the fair, all three ambassadors will head off to college. But they won’t forget their passion for animals and agriculture.

Croft, who graduated from Newberg High in June, will be attending Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. A longtime softball player, she received a scholarship to play for the Mountaineers.

She will study ag science, with the goal of becoming an agriculture safety risk management consultant.

She became interested in such a career when she job-shadowed consultant Kirk Lloyd. “He makes such a big difference in the lives of others,” she said, explaining that he makes sure they comply with laws and stay safe.

Roff, another 2016 NHS grad, plans to become a veterinarian. In fact, that’s been her dream since childhood.

Each step — joining 4-H, showing animals, becoming a fair ambassador, etc. -- has been made deliberately to bring her closer to that goal. Going to Oregon State University this fall is one more step, she said.

Roff said she wants to use her veterinary skills to help people who may not be able to afford to care for their animals. “I hope to make a big impact,” she said.

In addition to studying at OSU, Roff will ride on the school’s equestrian team. She will board her horses on campus.

“Having the horses there will help me keep organized,” she said. “They’ll keep me focused and make me manage my time well. That’s a big benefit.”

Rush, daughter of Bill and Tracy Rush, will attend Linfield College. She’ll live on campus and go home from time to time to see her dogs, cat and horses.

She is considering becoming a doctor — for humans, not animals, she said. 

She thought about being a vet, she said. But she knows that would be difficult, since she’d find it hard to maintain a professional distance. “I get instantly attached to every animal,” she said.

Whatever she ends up studying, Rush said she’s looking forward to starting college. “I’m excited for a new life, to meet new people and try a bunch of stuff,” she said.

Starla Pointer has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or spointer@newsregister.com.

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