Raquel Lopez’s life has changed for the better.

The Western Kentucky University agriculture student didn’t expect sheep to be at the forefront of her transformation just five years ago, but the 19-year-old from Santa Rosa, in California, is convinced that she found her true calling in life at a time when she thought she was running out of options.

“My breakthrough moment was the first moment I stepped into a ring and brought it to show off my project,” Lopez said as she waited to show off her smoke-colored sheep named ‘Ice’ to the large watching crowd. the 4H Future Farmers of America Market Lamb Staging Contest at the Kentucky State Fair. “At first I was really nervous and scared I might mess it up or let go of my lamb, but it went pretty well. I had a fun time my freshman year showing my lamb, where I Got pooped by the lamb in front of me… We had a good laugh.”

Lopez credits her high school agriculture teacher and legal guardian Dawn Stornetta for steering the wheel of her farming journey.

“My mom helped me pursue my dream and she’s my mentor,” Lopez said of Stornetta. “I kind of have to thank her for her involvement in the sheep industry and she kind of helped me find out where my real passion was, which was artificial insemination, what I want to do once I get finished school.”

Stornetta, 44, migrated to the Bluegrass State in the summer of 2019, two years after losing her home in the California wildfires. Around the same time, Stornetta learned that Lopez’s living situation had deteriorated.

Raquel Lopez holds her Ice sheep at the Kentucky State Fair on Tuesday, August 23, 2022. The Western Kentucky University student has been showing sheep since she was little.

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“Raquel was really at a point with her family where her (biological) mother wanted nothing to do with her,” Stornetta said. “Her parents, they had a very abusive relationship. Raquel has two siblings and then a half-brother as well. And her father was arrested.

“When I decided to come to Kentucky, she asked me if she could come,” Stornetta told the Courier Journal. “I’ve been in the teaching business for over 15 years, and if that’s what it takes to save a child, you save the child, then her mother gave her to me.

Stornetta was granted legal guardianship of Lopez, eventually bringing her on the 2,300-mile cross-country journey from California to Kentucky.

Since then, she has competed in many sheep show competitions, including her recent turn at the Kentucky State Fair where Lopez and “Ice” finished in second place behind handler Sam Benton and “Texas Pete.” In the winner’s circle, Benton praised the runner-up.

“I love Raquel, I’ve known her for a while. She moved here from California and made a name for herself,” Benton said. “It’s a matter of mutual respect, no matter what.”

Judge Brad Ellerbrock watches Ice, Raquel Lopez Ice's sheep at the Kentucky State Fair on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.

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Volunteer Maddox Trammel, 8, was thrilled to see ‘Texas Pete’ and ‘Ice’ strive for headlining.

“My favorite animal at the fair is the sheep,” Trammel said. “My favorite part of the fair is preparing the sheep, feeding them and soaking them (keeping the sheep hydrated). On a scale of 1 to 10, my excitement level is 100.”

Trammel’s reaction is part of what makes agricultural competitions enjoyable for Lopez and makes Stornetta proud of what her daughter has accomplished and will accomplish.

“She’s going to make her own decisions, because she’s going to have to grow up on her own, and I can’t always be there to decide everything for her,” Stornetta said. “She’s come a long way since we moved here. I’ve made it very clear to her that as long as she wants to show, I’ll fund it and no matter what, I’ll make sure she can do whatever it takes. whatever she wants to do, because it will shape her and how her future unfolds.

Raquel Lopez holds her Ice sheep at the Kentucky State Fair on Tuesday, August 23, 2022. The Western Kentucky University student has been showing sheep since she was little.

Lopez enjoyed competing at the State Fair, which continues at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds through Sunday, Aug. 28, and is excited about her future in the farming industry.

“My goal is to be an artificial inseminator and help develop and grow the breeding industry,” Lopez said. “And get this new level of genetics that will take our whole industry to a whole new level.”

Contact Jason Gonzalez, Culture and Diversity Reporter, at [email protected].

How much are Kentucky State Fair 2022 tickets?

Online tickets are $10 per person, which includes parking. Advance admission tickets are only available online via kystatefair.org/tickets. Children 5 and under are free.

Admission at the gate is $10 per person and $10 to park per vehicle.

Kentucky State Fair admission and ride wristbands are available online through Ticketmaster and at all participating Kroger stores. Visit kystatefair.org/tickets for details.