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4-H horse championship rewards hard work
JACKSON – To most people, showing horses seems a lot like work because of all the feeding, watering, stall cleaning, grooming and training involved – not to mention the countless hours spent at shows. But to Mississippi 4-H’ers involved in the horse program, all that work is a lot of fun.
Each summer, young people ages 8 to 18 converge on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds for the 4-H Horse Championship to reap the rewards of a year’s worth of effort. This year, more than 600 4-H horse program members participated in six educational contests and 105 riding events.
“The horse program is one of our most popular 4-H livestock programs,” said Dean Jousan, Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H livestock specialist. “Over the last 10 years, entries for the riding contests have remained between 1,100 and 1,200. Contestants number between 200 and 250 in the educational competitions.”
Kristy and Michael Clark and their children Gentry, 16, and Quincee, 10, are among the faithful, spending their summer vacations at the event each year.
“We haven’t been anywhere other than horse shows in about 10 years,” said Michael Clark, of Bolivar County. “We really enjoy it, and our kids learn from it. 4-H provides a family environment where our kids can learn on a level that is appropriate for their age. It’s not a dog-eat-dog kind of experience. They put their own work in and get the reward for that.”
4-H members from across Mississippi qualify in their districts to compete in many of the more than 100 riding events and educational contests during the show. Educational competitions include horse judging, horse quiz bowl, horse public speaking, horse individual and horse team demonstrations, and hippology. The contests are designed to encourage participants to research the horse industry and learn techniques for proper horse care, nutrition and training.
Individuals must own a horse to take part in the performance events, but the competitions focused on learning are open to any interested individual.
“The educational contests are great for kids who are interested in horses but might not have the space or financial ability to have a horse of their own,” said Larry Alexander, Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “But the knowledge the kids gain from preparing for the competitions really enhances their overall experience if they do have a horse and compete in the performance events.”
Bobby May, Union County 4-H member, can vouch for that. This year marks the 17-year-old’s sixth annual trek to the statewide show, where he participates in horse public speaking, horse individual demonstration, horse bowl and performance events.
“The things I’ve learned in horse bowl and doing other contests helps me every day with my horses,” May said. “I’ve learned good organizational and research skills, and having horses has taught me responsibility.”
He does not plan to work with horses for a living but knows his years spent in 4-H will come in handy when he gets the ranch he has dreamed of owning one day.
“But that will be after school,” said May, who plans to become a pharmacist.
Like May, Amite County 4-H’er Christian Nations loves horses and 4-H.
Twelve-year-old Christian has been a member of the 4-H horse program for just two years, but has had horses since she was 4. Horses have been wonderful therapy for Christian, who weighed 1.4 pounds at birth, said her mom, Debra Nations.
Christian said she spends most of her time at the barn, where she grooms, feeds and works with 7-year-old Buddy, the horse she rides in speed events.
“When I first got him, he was afraid of everything,” Christian said. “I started working with him on barrel riding, and one of the barrels had dirt on it. He wouldn’t go around it because of the dirt. But I just kept working with him until he could do it.”
Buddy is not the only one who has surpassed goals.
“4-H has helped Christian excel with kids in all kinds of settings, not just in horse competitions,” Debra Nations said.
Christian’s 4-H agent, Amy Walsh, agrees.
“I’ve really seen her self-confidence improve,” Walsh said. “She has fun competing, and she’s good at it. I love to see the smile it puts on her face.”
And that is what the 4-H Horse Championship is all about, said Jousan.
“This event and the work that leads up to it give youth the opportunity to compete in an environment that fosters their development while showcasing their skills in educational contests and with their horses,” he said.
To become involved in Mississippi 4-H and the horse program, contact the county Extension office.