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New Class Gives Youth Chance To Show Horses
By Amy Woolfolk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children with special needs will have the opportunity to participate in 4-H horse shows, after the Mississippi 4-H Horse Club board of directors voted recently to add a new class to its program.
The state board accepted a suggestion from a district meeting to have a class for children with special needs, said Dr. Joe Baker, extension animal science specialist.
"We want to give kids with special needs a chance to participate in organized competition," Baker said.
The class has been added to the program for the four district 4-H shows and the state show next summer. Youngsters ages 8 to 18 will compete in the class, Baker said.
"At this point, all ages will show in the same class, but as numbers grow and the need arises, some kind of divisions will be made," Baker said
Mary Hopkins, American Quarter Horse Association judge from Vicksburg, gives riding lessons to children with special needs. She said she was very excited to see the Mississippi 4-H club providing an opportunity for special youth to compete.
"Most people with special needs want to do all of the things that people without special needs do," Hopkins said. "It is very important that we offer equal opportunities to help the youth feel better about themselves."
Hopkins, who has judged equestrian events at the International Special Olympics twice, is working with the board to create some rules for the new class.
Safety will be stressed in the class by requiring all riders to wear protective headgear. Riders are also required to have assistants in the ring with them. Assistants may walk beside the rider or lead the horse, Hopkins said.
Participants in the new class will be judged on the same qualities as riders in other classes. Hopkins said judges will look at the riders' ability to handle the horse and to carry themselves well in the saddle.
While many classes at the district show serve as qualifying classes for the state show, the special needs class will not be a qualifier. Any youngster who participates in the class at the district show may also show at the state level, but participation at the district show is not mandatory to go to the state show.
"The board is very excited about offering the new class, and we hope to have good participation," Baker said. "We also hope that adding the class to the district and state shows will encourage counties to add the class to their programs."