4-H horse club big investment for youths

Published 1:23 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For many young girls, the love of a horse can be the driving force in their lives.

It can be the thing that keeps them grounded, focused, and out of trouble. It can be a major contributor to teaching them responsibility, boosting their self-confidence, and keeping them out of the trouble so many teens in today’s world are faced with. That love, if nurtured in the right environment, can bring a sense of accomplishment, poise, and lifetime memories into the young girl’s life.

For Pearl River County children, the local 4-H horsemanship program is just the place. Now in its third year since being revitalized after Hurricane Katrina, the program is giving area youths a place to join like-minded individuals and learn all aspects of horsemanship, including riding, grooming, and showmanship.

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“These girls are finding something they can believe in. Their self confidence, sense of responsibility, and accomplishment are really so important,” said Sharmon Shiyou, one of the program’s directors. She was at a board of supervisors meeting earlier this month to thank the supervisors for the use of the fairgrounds.

Shiyou said that in the last three years, the horsemanship program has grown from four families to more than 60 youths ranging in age from five to 17. Though the majority of the kids are young girls, Shiyou said more boys would join if they could find someone to teach them the areas of horsemanship they are most interested in. “Yes, they like the poles and barrels,” Shiyou said, “but they are more interested in the roping and calf tying. We just don’t have a roping instructor yet.”

The club covers all areas of horsemanship in both English and Western riding, said Shiyou, including other areas important to being involved in horses such as knowing the parts of not only the horse, but of the equipment as well. “We cover all disciplines,” Shiyou said, who runs the program along with Allison Anderson. “Halter, pleasure, jumping. But we will also quiz the girls on the parts of the horse or the equipment, they need to know these things. ”

Crediting the youths with the huge leap in membership, Shiyou said many of the newer members joined when they heard the other girls talking about the various riding clinics, horse shows, and the camaraderie they were involved in. “It has been by word of mouth,” Shiyou said. “The girls will hear the other girls talking about what they were doing and then they say they want to join.”

In addition to the weekly horse riding clinics, Shiyou said the club also goes to nursing homes to visit the elderly and disabled. “We do Valentine’s and Christmas,” said Shiyou, adding that some of the girls are forming a drill team for future competition and to be the opening show for horse shows and rodeos. “It is an invitation-only thing,” Shiyou said. She said they were going all out for the uniforms, complete with “all the bling.” Shiyou said the team is referred to the Blazing Saddles 4-H Team. “It is the hardest thing we have ever done,” she said.

Drill team competitions, which goes on nationwide, are judged on choreographed precision routines in which each individual rider and horse must coordinate with the other riders, with some riders responsible for carrying flags. The horses must be able to perform under unusual circumstances without spooking, including at air shows, around gunfire (blanks are used), and in front of large, and noisy crowds.

The club also has a Queen’s Pageant each year where competitors compete in a essay competition, a horsemanship pattern riding competition, and an interview portion for the honor of being crowned in one of three categories – Little Miss for seven and under; Junior Miss for girls eight to 13; and Miss for teens 14 to 18. This year 24 girls competed in the event.

Shiyou said that the dedication of the older teens is what she gets the most satisfaction from because of the demands on their time and attention. “The way they stay grounded and to have so much passion for the horses at their age with school demands and life’s demands, that means a lot.”

Shiyou said anywhere from 30 to 35 youths show up at the fairgrounds during the Tuesday practices, with their horses in tow. “It is a big commitment,” Shiyou said. Many parents have to also be actively involved since the horses had to be loaded and trailered to the fairgrounds. Several of the participating youths also have other family members who haul their horses for them including aunts, uncles, or grandparents. “It is a big deal, something for the whole family. You have to load the horse, trailer it, spend time here.”

As for area youths who do not own a horse, or for those needing to move up to a more experienced one, Shiyou said both she and Anderson trailer in additional horses. “There are some kids who don’t have the luxury of owning a horse, so a lot of us who have extra horses bring in extras,” she said.

While area youths can join at age five, they are unable to compete legally until they are eight. Shiyou said the practice of the weekly meetings, the riding drills, and the clinics prepare the younger riders for the stepped-up requirements of showing.

Shiyou said that by covering all areas of horsemanship, the youths have more of an open mind to the various disciplines of horsemanship instead of limiting themselves to just one form. “We want them to have an open mind because if they just want to be a barrel racer, they may think that is all there is,” said Shiyou.

Noting that she has seen some “unlikely” friendships because of the shared love of horses, Shiyou said the club is all about fun. Summing up the goals of the club, Shiyou said, “It is all about keeping it creative and fun and do it through the love of horses.”

Anyone interested in enrolling a child in the local program should show up at the Tuesday meetings at 5:30 p.m. at the county fairgrounds at the corner of Mississippi Highway 26 and US Highway 11. There is a small application to complete and the member will receive the monthly 4-H newsletter.