Head, Heart, Hands, Health -- and Horses!

By Danielle Henson

Throughout Kentucky, thousands of 4-Hers and their trusty steeds work year-round to get ready for the State Horse Show. The show spans 7 days from July 2nd to the 8th and each day is packed with a variety of equestrian competitions. As a 4-H Horse Program Alumni, some of my fondest memories came from preparing for and showing at the fairgrounds. Here’s a leg-up on what makes the 4-H State Horse Show so special:

1. The variety of disciplines


4-H offers a wide variety of disciplines that one can compete in on their way to the state competition. One of the largest divisions is the hunters and jumpers which encompasses not only the elegant hunters and daring jumpers, but also the dressage division. Another English discipline you’ll find is saddleseat. American Saddlebreds, road ponies, and Hackneys show off their high-action gaits in equitation and pleasure classes. These riders probably have the famous World’s Championship Horse Show that’s held during the Kentucky State Fair on their bucket list! The other division showcased at the show is Western. The exciting barrel racing competition is a thrill to watch as is the reining. Drill team draws a large crowd as groups of riders choreograph routines to music and dress themselves and horses in costume. Last but not least, is the miniature horses! They are easily the cutest horses you’ll see at the show and are a real treat to watch compete.

2. Teaching responsibility


Competing at District and State level requires a village to make the days run smoothly. It also teaches riders how to be responsible. With so many classes over multiple days, keeping track of when it’s your turn to enter the ring is important! As is making time to clean tack, having lunch, and getting ready. A take away from competing at the 4-H State Horse Show was definitely a higher sense of responsibility for not only myself, but for others around me, as well. It’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

3. Practicing good sportsmanship


When you show at District level and State level, you’re not alone! Each 4-H club in the state brings most of their members and horses to rack up ribbons and Danishes (a judging system that awards color coded ribbons in addition for placing ribbons based on execution. For example, a purple Danish is superior while green is fair.) You’ll be competing with and against your best friends and while it’s fun, it’s also a learning experience! Not everyone will walk away with blue ribbons and sometimes you walk out of the ring with nothing at all. The sportsmanship in 4-H is bar-none whether it’s from your own club or from a club three countries away. It’s a great feeling to receive cheers and to give them because you never know how much someone needs it in the arena!

4. Becoming a better horseman or horsewoman

The biggest take away from showing in the 4-H show is the horsemanship you gain. It’s expected of riders to participate and facilitate the daily care of their horses while on the show grounds. Each club competes for a stable management award for the best maintained stable area which includes cleanliness, horse care (feed, mucking, grooming etc.), and overall décor. The riders are in charge of making sure their tack is clean and safe to use, their horses are groomed, and that they turn themselves out as best as they can. You learn a lot about what really goes into the daily needs of your horse. The skill set is valuable for future equine endeavors and in everyday living, too. Mucking stalls is like cleaning your bedroom, you know?

5. The fun!


The 4-H State Horse show is fun! It can be stressful and nerve racking, but it’s what you work for all year! There’s nothing like going into Broadbent Arena and showing off your horse and all the time and effort you put into his turn out and his skills. You get to hang out and cheer on your club and other clubs from around the state. It’s an enjoyable atmosphere win or lose. Though I may not have won a blue ribbon, I value the horses and people I met through my years of being in the 4-H Horse Program!

Photography by Dana Kapple