Trailin': 4-H Horse & Pony Practices in Full Swing

By Tina Turney
Posted 6/10/99

Outdoor practices have gotten underway for the Johnson County Horse & Pony 4-H Club. There have been three held so far with at least one per week planned before the Johnson County 4-H and FFA …

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Trailin': 4-H Horse & Pony Practices in Full Swing


Outdoor practices have gotten underway for the Johnson County Horse & Pony 4-H Club. There have been three held so far with at least one per week planned before the Johnson County 4-H and FFA Fair.

Practice sessions are held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in the outdoor arena if weather permits. Otherwise, they are held in the covered arena. While not as large, the covered arena has enough space to practice ground work (showing at halter and showmanship) and the walk-trot gaits.

The first three sessions held in May and earlier this week had good turn outs with several first-year members participating. It’s always a little intimidating for newcomers bringing their horses out to the fairgrounds for the first time. For some of the kids, it’s the only chance they’ve had to take their horses away from home and be around strange horses in an unfamiliar setting. But there’s always plenty of help from Les Kempf, Horse & Pony Club leader, and the volunteer committee which is made up of parents. We’ve been lucky to also have some of the older kids and past members of the club there to help the younger kids.

According to Les, “Our practices are a real melting pot with kids and horses at all levels of experience and training. But it’s a real good chance for the kids to mix and get to know each other. We keep our sessions pretty laid back, it’s all about the kids doing it themselves and having fun.”

At our first practice held May 25 we spent some time talking about properly fitting saddles and bridles and adjusting stirrup length. Many of the kids and their parents are already knowledgeable horsemen, but in order to show at the fair, there are certain guidelines that need to be followed. Also, there is always the practical emphasis on safe horse handling and riding.

We work with every project as an individual, and the goal is for each child to feel good about their horse and set attainable goals for improvement.

Some of the projects involve young horses and ponies that will be shown at halter only, not ridden or driven. There is a lot to learn to successfully do this. The young horse needs to be well-behaved and presented to the judge for evaluation in the best way possible. This requires being able to lead the horse and then set him up so he looks his best. The 4-Her needs to learn the correct position for himself when in front of the judge also.

The kids who have riding horses concentrate on the three basic gaits - walk, trot and lope. They also learn to back up and turn around correctly on the rail. We make the kids aware of keeping space between their horse and the others to avoid accidents. Some of the kids aren’t comfortable loping or cantering their horses, so they work on walk and trot until they gain confidence.

At the next practices we’ll work on negotiating the horses through obstacles in the trail class. For those who ride in the game classes (barrel racing, pole bending, and the flag race) we will set that up too. A fun class, egg and spoon, is one event we don’t practice. The kids usually try that for the first time at the show and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

I’m impressed at how much the kids progress, sometimes within one practice, but always during the weeks before the fair. And it’s nice to see the kids as they go through 4-H becoming better horsemen from year to year.

One aspect of working with the Horse & Pony Club that differs from some of the other livestock projects is that in most cases, the 4-Her keeps the same horse or pony for his entire 4-H career. The projects don’t get sold after the fair, like the beef cattle, sheep and hog projects.

Often times the kids will start out with an older well-broke horse and gain confidence and experience, and then later on will take on a colt, applying the knowledge they’ve gained to successfully ride and show a young horse.

In our club all of us who have worked with Les have tried to make the 4-H experience a positive one for the kids and their families. After all, the goal is not to try to turn every child and their horse into world-class competitors, but rather to help them learn self-confidence and good horsemanship that will serve them their entire lives.

The next couple of months will be busy ones for all 4-H and FFA kids and their families getting ready for county fairs here in eastern Iowa.

Our club will hold practices on June 17, 21 and 23. The Fun Show, which is open to 4-Hers in surrounding counties will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds on Sunday, June 27 at 10 a.m. The showbill will be similar to that at the fair.

There will be continuing practices on July 6, 14 and 22 in preparation for the fair July 26-29. Ponies will be shown on Monday the 26th and horses on Tuesday the 27th. Both shows will begin with halter classes at 3 p.m. continuing on into the evening with the performance classes. In the meantime the word is practice, practice, practice; but remember to keep it fun!