It’s All About The Animals, Part 2

Last time, I talked about my equine experience at Wind River Ranch. Now, I want to share about my time in the 4-H Horse Program. In More Than Puppy Love, I briefly discussed how 4-H got me interested in the scientific aspect of horses, but I learned so much more than equine anatomy and physiology over my nine years in 4-H.

First and foremost, 4-H taught me about caring for horses. In the Virginia 4-H Horse Project, all participants are required to declare their project horse in early May and qualify at district shows and clinics in May and June before they could show at the State Championship Show in September. If I had two horses and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to show at State, then I could declare and qualify both horses and make the decision later in the summer, after I had more time to work each horse and see which one was more prepared. The qualification system also made sure that people weren’t just buying a horse a couple of weeks before State and bringing an unprepared horse to a large, hectic show. I had to care for my project horses by grooming them, making sure they got shod (hooves trimmed and shoes put on), devising a nutrition plan to keep them at an optimal weight, and cleaning the stalls so they stayed clean and healthy. A huge component of animal experience is simply becoming comfortable around different species; I know some people in my class that have almost exclusively small-animal experience, and thus they aren’t very comfortable around horses or other livestock. Gaining this comfort is not something that can be rushed, and one of the best ways to get comfortable is being around horses and grooming them.

The Southwest Virginia 4-H Center where I went to 4-H camp and later helped conduct horse camps.

4-H also taught me about the importance of prior planning. In preparation for the district and state shows, I trained and rode my horse five to six times a week. Some of this training was done from the ground for showmanship, which is a class where I guided my horse through a set pattern. The pattern was different for each judge, but typically included a walk, trot, stop, back, pivot on the hindquarters, and inspection. The inspection part of showmanship is the time for the judge to nitpick every detail of my personal grooming and my horse’s grooming: Is there any dirt on the horse? Are the mane and tail clean and brushed, and for certain disciplines banded or braided? Is the coat shiny (This goes beyond grooming into the horse’s nutrition and overall health)? Are the horse’s hooves in good condition? Is the halter clean and the silver shined? Is my hat clean and shaped? Are my clothes and boots neat and presentable? If any thing was out of place, points were deducted, so preparing for showmanship was just as much training for the pattern maneuvers in the weeks leading up to the show as the final preparation the morning of. Showmanship taught me a lot about the need for prior preparation – there’s no way to rush getting my horse to pivot correctly.

My favorite class to show in is trail. This class involves maneuvering around common obstacles that may be seen while taking a trail ride, such as a walking over a bridge, opening and navigating through a gate, walking/jogging/loping over poles, and putting on/taking off a raincoat. It’s a difficult class because the patterns are often very tight and complex, so part of the challenge is simply remembering where to go when and in which order. If I missed an obstacle or did them in the wrong order, I would be automatically disqualified for being “off course”. Preparing for trail involved a lot of hours schooling over poles and backing between and around different obstacles, like cones or plants. I learned how to trust my horse, instead of dictating her every step over the poles, I would set her up and let her choose her own stride so that she didn’t hit any. I love the challenge that trail presents, and I have enjoyed training some of my other project horses to compete in this class. See the video at the bottom of this post-it’s the 2011 American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Champion in Trail.

My 4-H Horse Judging Team.

Finally, I gained a lot of valuable leadership experience through 4-H. I served as club president for 2 years and club secretary for 2 years. In these positions, I learned how to plan and conduct meetings, construct a meeting agenda, access important information about deadlines and upcoming events, take minutes, and teach others. This experience has been so valuable in my time at LMU; I’ve used skills learned through 4-H to help start the LMU Pre-Vet Club and lead the club through its first year. Animal experience isn’t just about becoming comfortable around animals; it’s also about getting exposure that will help out later in life.

I really enjoyed my years in 4-H, and I was sad when I aged out of the program. Hopefully, I will be able to contribute back by being a club leader or extension agent in the future.

Have you participated in 4-H or FFA? Let me know in the comments! If you have any questions, email me!


Posted on June 3, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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