The Fort Worth Livestock Exhibition is physically demanding on all contestants, but more so than most on one fifteen-year-old wether lamb and goat exhibitioner because of physical disabilities he has faced since birth.
Huntter Sprayberry, who was born premature, weighing one pound, has a mild case of cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy, according to the Center for Disease Control, is a neurological disorder caused by the under development of the brain. This disorder affects body movement, muscle coordination, and oral motor functioning, which makes it difficult for Sprayberry to process information and verbally communicate quickly.
Growing up, Huntter tried gymnastics, TaeKwonDo, and baseball, but nothing made him feel comfortable in his skin, according to his mother, Shea Sprayberry. However, when he began showing animals through the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program at his school, things began to change.
FFA, according to their website, is an organization that promotes leadership and responsibility within the minds of students by teaching them how to properly raise and care for farm animals. Students enter their animals into livestock shows and compete for recognition of muscle definition and distribution.
Livestock exhibiting requires the exhibitor to escort his animal into the ring and “set” the animal in place. Huntter will set his lamb, Larry, by placing his feet firmly on the ground and applying pressure against the lamb. Larry will push back against Huntter, in a battle of the fittest showing the judge the muscle definition throughout the body of the lamb.
However, due to Huntter’s cerebral palsy, he has less strength in his hands and legs than most people his age, so the pressure he can physically force upon the lamb may not be as great as his competitors.
“Huntter works really hard when he first gets the animal home to try to teach it what he expects it to do, so the animal can learn what is expected with the amount of pressure he can give,” Shea said.
When he is in the ring showing with Larry, Shea said his disabilities are not as obvious as they would be if he were playing other sports.
Although Huntter may have to work tirelessly with Larry physically, the emotional connection has come naturally for the pair.
“It’s really easy to connect with Larry because he’s a friendly lamb,” Huntter said.
Shea said her son’s friendship with Larry has helped Huntter gain the confidence to become the young man he is today by showing him how responsibility and hard work pay off in the arena.