On the brown dirt floor of the Sheep Barn, Ahmad Harris gently led Punkin, a 9-month-old goat, around a wide circle.
Wearing a cream-colored cowboy hat, Ahmad paused and smiled before the judges. Nearby, his mother wiped away tears.
Harris, who has Down syndrome, was among the dozen participants Saturday in the Helping Hands show for children with special needs. Part of the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show, the inaugural event gave the special-needs children an opportunity to show animals and participate in 4H.
“I have never seen Ahmad this happy,” said his mother, Rhonda Harris of Fort Worth. “You can see how calm the animals become around him. This is incredible.”
Show Superintendent Doreen Bruton said she got the idea for Helping Hands after she learned of a similar program in Wise County. Bruton, whose own children participated in 4H, said raising and showing animals teaches children responsibility and patience.
For Helping Hands, 4H members served as teachers for students with special needs, showing them how to properly show rabbits, goats and sheep.
The event was on the final day of the Tarrant County Junior Livestock Show, which was held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.
“This is good for everybody. It gives children with special needs the opportunity to be around animals, which many don’t have in day-to-day life,” Bruton said. “And it gives 4H students the chance to be teachers and leaders.”
Alyssa Phillilps, 16, of Westlake has always loved animals, so she jumped at the chance to learn to show them. On Saturday, she led Ray, a 1-year-old goat, around the ring. When Ray stood on her foot, Phillips just laughed.
“I love this,” said Phillips, who has cerebral palsy. “I want to do it again.”
Makenzi Waller, 18, of Fort Worth, who raised Ray, said she enjoyed teaching others how to handle the animals.
“Alyssa is a natural,” Waller said. “When Ray got a little crazy, she didn’t panic. She kept calm and braced him.”
Some children learned more than just how to show animals. Within minutes, 11-year-old Wyatt Kwentis, who has Down syndrome, named his 11-week-old rabbit Fluffy.
“I love animals,” said Wyatt, stroking the rabbit's plush, white fur.
As he finished showing Punkin, Ahmad Harris reached down to pet the goat. Madison Klein, who raised Punkin, lifted her arm.
“High five, Ahmad,” she told him. “You did awesome.”