Wednesday, June 29, 2011

State 4-H horse and pony program remains strong

Whether it’s shooting between rows of cones like a cannonball or riding with military precision, Wisconsin youth seeking to expand their knowledge and abilities with horses have a built in network with the state’s 4-H Youth Horse and Pony Program. And if you’re looking to meet like-minded people from all over the state and share your passion for all things equine, the 4-H program probably fits the ticket.

County fair season is when many 4-H and FFA members show off what they’ve learned and find out where they stand with their horse projects. But the state4-H horse program also offers several statewide signature events many youth now take part in, noted Liv Sandberg, UW-Madison Extension Equine Specialist.

Many districts host “animal sciences days” for youth with livestock projects including horses. During May, youth also have opportunities to participate in Horse Bowl and Hippology, a form of horse science education. Additionally, each year in June there is the 4-H Hunter/Jumper Show and Clinic, then in September, there’s a Gymkhana competition at State Fair Park, Milwaukee, and finally there’s the 4-H Horse Expo, also in September at the State Fair Park.

“The 4-H Horse and Pony Program offers youth a lot of opportunities to learn about horses, horse care, and horse skills,” Sandberg said. “There’s competition involved but it’s really about learning important life lessons.”

Based on the number of youth involved, the 4-H equine program has sustained its strength through good times and poor. The total number of youth with a horse project in Wisconsin “has floated around 5,700 to 5,900 for the last several years,” Sandberg said. In comparison, the 4-H dairy project had about 4,300 youth participants in 2009.

Up to 250 4-H youth took advantage of the Horse Bowl and Hippology events this spring. The hunt/dressage event can expect about 120 participants; another 190 to 200 will enjoy the gymkhana competition; and last year 650 youth exhibited about 580 horses at the state horse expo in Milwaukee.

“There’s something for almost everyone including model horses and projects for youth who don’t have a horse,” Sandberg said. “Wisconsin has a pretty diverse set of horse interests and our state horse program tends to reflect those interests.”

One of the examples of the diversity is the annual State Hunt/Dressage Show and Clinic coming up June 24-26, 2011 at the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. The event also is unique because it’s a competition combined with educational activities, Sandberg said.

Events and activities at the show and clinic are based on the ancient equine disciplines of dressage and field hunting, she explained. Dressage is often described as ballet on horse consisting of a series of intricate moves between horse and rider.

“The hunter discipline comes from the old fox and field hunting sports. Horses are expected to be able to run and then jump fences and hedgerows when they come to them. It’s considered an endurance sport so the horses tend to be larger than what you may see in the western riding disciplines,” Sandberg said.

Youth who like speed look forward to the annual gymkhana competition scheduled for State Fair Park September 10-11, 2011. Gymkhana consists of seven timed speed events such as barrel racing, pole bending, keyhole race, flag race, plug race, LT race and speed and action race, Sandberg explained.

“The plug and LT races are forms of the barrel race,” Sandberg said. “In the keyhole race, rider and horse shoot between two rows of cones like a cannonball, spin around at the other end and shoot back through in the other direction.”

Finally, on September 15-18, 2011 at State Fair Park, is the State 4-H Horse Expo. To exhibit a horse at the expo, youth must qualify by earning a blue ribbon during a 4-H show such as at a county fair. Last year the event drew 650 youth and about 580 horses.

“There’s a lot more to the expo than the horse show. We have a model horse show, woodworking, presentations and public speaking, photography, drawing and art, and a writing contest that’s becoming more popular each season,” Sandberg said. “And there are 84 different horse show classes divided up by age and discipline groups.”

One thing 4-H horse youth seem to have in common is a passion for horses regardless of styles and breeds, Sandberg concluded.

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