Lauren Pride says the key to successful pig racing is to really get to know your pig.

Since early August, 9-year-old Lauren has been getting to know a young pig named Matt. She talks to him, spends time in his pen, takes him on walks (on a leash) and plays hide and seek with him.

And perhaps most importantly, she’s been letting him taste a wide array of treats to see what will make him move fastest when it comes to race time Sunday at the Cumberland County Fair.

“He hates vanilla wafers. And I tried broccoli. But what he really likes are Pop Tarts,” said Lauren.

But what kind of Pop Tarts?

“Any kind. He’s a pig — what do you expect?”

Lauren, who lives in Limington, has been racing pigs yearly at the fair since she was 5 as part of the Cumberland County Swiners 4-H Club. It’s a program designed to let young children get some exposure raising a piglet — given to them by the Cumberland Farmer’s Club for a couple of months — until they’re about 30 pounds. When they’re older, the children can graduate to raising a piglet until it’s full grown and ready for market.

The program lets the kids get to know their pigs without having to worry about the cute little oinker becoming a 200-pound market hog.

And the culmination of the Swiners club program is the racing at the fair, where children sit on a chair at one end of the arena, call their pigs and offer up anything they can think of to make them motor to the finish line. Racing incentives range from peanut butter and jelly to carrots, Oreos, hot dogs, and, of course, Pop Tarts.

The pigs will be racing every day at this year’s 141st Cumberland County Fair, which will be held Sunday through Sept. 29. There will also be harness racing at the fairgrounds on Sept. 30, the day exhibits will be taken down.

The fair will also include a midway with rides, games and food, and lots of livestock displays and competitions. Some of the highlights this year include comedian Bob Marley performing on Sunday night, the demolition derby and the Don Campbell Band on Wednesday night, and giant pumpkins on display throughout.

And of course, the pig races, which draw quite a crowd.

For those of you not familiar with piglets, they are not exactly born to race. They sort of have a mind of their own.

“These are not friendly little pigs when you get them. They scream and run away when you first try to handle them,” said Lauren’s mom, Kathleen Pride. “But in three days, Lauren teaches her pig to come to her.”

Lauren says training piglets is a delicate process. She spends time with them, but she’s careful not to spend too much time, because that can scare them.

With Matt, Lauren first got him used to her coming into his pen. Then she had him follow her around the pen, then the family barn.

She began playing hide and seek with him, all the time knowing that the more he got used to following her and coming to her call, the better he’d react when she called his name during the pig races. She even has other family members call him, using different names, so she could tell if Matt was responding to his name and to her voice.

“Now I can hide anywhere, and he finds me,” said Lauren. “To win the race, you have to be super attached to your pig and have them be super attached to you.”

Does that make it hard when the race is over? And the pigs are all sold to farmers?

“It’s super hard, because I love my pigs so much,” she said.

Lauren’s love for pigs helped her win the week of racing last year at Cumberland County Fair. Races are held all week long, usually four pigs at a time. Points are given for each place in a race, then added up at the end of the week.

This year is Lauren’s last year of racing, because 9 is the age limit.

She’s also raising a heifer. But it can’t be quite the same, can it? After all, cows don’t come when you call them.

“If I start training her from the beginning, I can get her to do it,” said Lauren. “You can do it with any animal if you get to know them.”

So if you see the pig races this year, don’t think of them as just pure athletic competition.

Think of them as a way for youngsters to really get to know their pigs.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier