Did you know that a horse’s closest relative is not a cow, pig or goat. It’s the rhinoceros! That’s just one of the many interesting facts youth encounter when they join the 4-H Horse Project. 6,053 Minnesota youth participated in 4-H horse programming last year.
Whether youth have a horse in their backyard or have never once had the pleasure of holding the reins, 4-H has learning experiences that give every horse lover opportunities to grow.
Many youth, like Alison Murrell from Isanti County, join the 4-H Horse Project with some level of horse ownership or riding experience. “Horses have been a part of my life since I was born,” she said. “As soon as I was old enough to mount a horse I did.”
Hippology is a 4-H activity that challenges youth to learn about equine science, management, health and nutrition, and husbandry. Youth participants collaborate with each other to expand their knowledge and even engage in friendly competition. In addition to learning a lot about horses, youth gain speaking, listening and leadership skills along the way.
“I was so shy when I was younger and this program helped me come out of my shell.” recalled Alison. “Now public speaking and networking are two of my strongest attributes.” Those skills have served Alison well as she’s grown up. She’s a role model and mentor to younger 4-H youth, serves as secretary of the Minnesota 4-H Horse Project Development Committee and was a finalist in the Dan Patch Youth Leadership Program, which recognizes outstanding 4-H Horse Project members.
Youth involved in the 4-H Horse Project build deep bonds with the horses they interact with. “Horses can express emotions similar to humans,” said Renee Kostick, the Extension educator who provides leadership to this program. “The social emotional connections that young people have with animals is immeasurable.”
Taking the reins
Leah Goldade of Anoka County did not grow up around horses but was always drawn to them. By chance she discovered the 4-H Horse Project during a community parade. At nine years old, Leah joined the 4-H Horseless Horse Project, a set of learning experiences designed especially for youth who love horses but don’t have regular access to them.
Leah was mentored by an older youth with a horse. Six years after her first 4-H Horse experience, she now owns horses and mentors the next generation of horse enthusiasts. “Being involved in the 4-H Horse Project has given me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had living in the city,” said Leah. “I learned about horses, but I also learned how to be an effective part of a team and work with varying age groups.”
Like many other youth in the 4-H Horse Project, Leah plans to apply her growing skills to her future education and career. Horse related careers include veterinarian, farrier, chiropractor, massage therapy, riding instructor, among others. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Crookston campuses offer clinical services, research and veterinary education courses to prospective students looking to go into the equine field.
The show must go on
During the pandemic, the 4-H Horse Project has gone virtual. 766 youth have participated in online activities that teen mentors like Alison and Leah have created. In partnership with Extension educators, they have offered virtual horse knowledge bowl sessions, workshops that expand upon core knowledge and networking opportunities to engage and inform younger youth.
“When older youth mentor younger youth, it’s a win-win situation,” said Leah. “Both parties are learning and growing their skillset. The older youth want to pay it forward by using the skills they gained to help younger youth do the same.”
Explore upcoming 4-H Horse Project opportunities.