Riders showcase horsemanship, responsibility at 4-H competition

mquillin@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2013 

— The four H’s in 4-H stand for head, heart, hands and health. Ember Jetter might add horses and happiness.

Ember, 15, who lives near Statesville, joined 4-H last year to participate in the club’s horse competitions and get experience in a sport she began learning on her own about two years ago. She placed in several classes in her 4-H district competition this spring, qualifying her to attend the statewide show that ran Wednesday through Sunday at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

There, she entered 11 classes and won ribbons in seven. Her favorite is “pole-bending,” in which riders run a timed course threading between white poles, guiding their horses as close as possible to the poles without touching them.

“No blues yet, but that’s OK,” said her dad, Fred, who watched every round at the Horse Complex with Ember’s mom, Sherry, and grandma, Glenda, who lives in Cary. “This one’s been a learning experience.”

Show manager Robin Lynn says everything about 4-H is designed to be a learning experience. The club’s motto is “Learn by Doing,” and students — aged 9 to 19 — who participate in the horse program have to train their own horses, care for them, and do the work of learning to ride them. The combined experience makes 4-H kids responsible and self-confident, says Lynn, who grew up in 4-H herself.

“It’s not like having a goldfish,” she said. “If it’s raining or sleeting or snowing or you don’t feel good, the horse is still relying on you.”

Competitors in the program don’t have to own a horse, Lynn said, but even if they don’t, coming to a state show — followed by a regional show, if they’re successful, and the nationals if they do well there — can be costly.

“There’s a lot of sacrifice,” she said. “A lot of these kids, they don’t do anything else throughout the year, just so they can get to this point, to this show.”

That goes for the riders’ families as well. Ember’s parents both took vacation time from their jobs to be able to bring their young equestrian to the show and cheer for her from the stands.

Participants keep their animals in the stables at the horse complex, and many are at the facility from 6 or 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. each day. Some stay in tents or campers on the grounds, others in hotels or with relatives. During the show, they have little time to leave the grounds unless it’s for a quick meal.

But many don’t want to go anywhere else. They have friends here they only see at horse shows, and there are vendors and a swap shop and demonstrations such as the one Friday night of “cowboy mounted shooting,” where riders shot at balloons.

This year’s event drew about 280 horse-and-rider combinations, Lynn said, to compete in 125 classes for 16 divisional championships.

This was Gracie Haynes’ eighth state show. The 14-year-old from Concord has loved horses since she was a little girl. Like Ember Jetter, she hopes to be a large-animal veterinarian when she grows up.

Gracie’s specialty is Western Pleasure riding, trails class, where she placed first this year, same as she has for the past three years.

Gracie and her family came to the event with six other riders from the Golden Saddles 4-H Club in Cabarrus County.

They’re all friends, but Anita Haynes says kids like her daughter often like animals better than people.

Gracie’s mount is a Quarterhorse named Karley.

“For Gracie, her horse is her best friend,” Anita Haynes said.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service