The terms, the protocol and even the animals were unfamiliar at the Royal Highland Show's livestock judging contest in Scotland, but two Maryland teenagers adapted to earn top awards at the international competition.
Rebecca Hamilton of Lisbon and Maria Stevens of Woodsboro, both 17, competed as a team at the show, receiving points for their ability to evaluate beef cattle and to explain their rationale for rating the animals.
Stevens and Hamilton received the top and second-highest scores among several dozen teams from the United States who judged beef cattle, dairy cattle or sheep. As a team, their score was second to only one Scottish team, although their results were counted separately from the native teams, who were competing for their national championship.
The girls' coach, Chris Mullinix, a Howard County native who also coaches a community college team in El Dorado, Kan., said their placement "is really rather remarkable, considering ... the difference in the criteria by which they judge livestock [in Scotland] and the difference in the ways the competition is run."
Mullinix said the young women spent only one day learning the ropes from a Scottish competitor and were able to incorporate the different standards - Scottish judges like much more muscle mass than Americans, for example - and use terminology that the Scottish would recognize.
"They had the ability to make that shift and do it quickly and think on their feet in the process," Mullinix said.
Hamilton, a senior at Glenelg High School, said she was not used to the "laid back" atmosphere, including the way competitors chatted with each other between judging classes.
She said she felt "nervous excitement, because it was all new and different ... It was a lot shorter than our normal contest with four classes instead of nine or 10."
Stevens, who received the highest score of all the American competitors, said they had to judge several breeds - including Limousin bulls, Belgian Blue heifers and Galloway heifers - that are popular in the United Kingdom, but not as common in the United States.
The Frederick County resident, who graduated from Walkersville High School, said for her and Hamilton to excel at the contest was "pretty cool. We didn't think we would do that well, since it is kind of different."
Lindsay Smith, 17, of West Friendship, and Ben Warfield, 19, of Marriottsville were the other two members of Maryland's livestock judging team, which earned the chance to compete in Scotland by placing in the top three at the national 4-H judging competition in November.
Smith, a recent graduate of Notre Dame Prep in Towson, was unable to attend the judging contest because she was working on a horse farm in Holland. She said she cared for and rode horses each day as a way to learn more about the animals and improve her riding skills. She competes in national and international English show jumping and equitation contests.
Warfield missed the Scottish competition to attend the National Junior Shorthorn Show competition in Iowa, where he placed fifth in livestock judging and showmanship contests and was elected to the American Junior Shorthorn Association's board of directors.
After the contest, Warfield joined Hamilton and Stevens and their coaches to travel to London and Paris, and parts of Germany and Belgium.
Hamilton said she enjoyed staying with a host family on a dairy farm in Belgium, where she and Stevens helped care for the animals.
"I think it is always good for anyone to be in other people's shoes," she said. "I think it helps us understand how agriculture has grown in America to where it is now."