In 4-H, youth are building leadership skills for the future and today. Programs like 4-H Horse Project are just one of many opportunities youth in 4-H have to authentically partner with others, build leadership skills and become change agents.
Zoe Eblen, a 16 year-old from Meeker County, is taking the reins in her community by mentoring younger youth who are curious about horses. “My family has a legacy with 4-H, it was a no-brainer when I joined as a young person.” said Zoe. She held several leadership roles and earned awards for excellence in leadership and knowledge. Zoe is currently a coach for a team of 3rd-8th grade youth who are preparing to compete in the 4-H Project Bowl. They specialize in equine knowledge, skills and showmanship.
Zoe has always been fond of horses but did not own one when she was young. “My grandparents lived on a farm with horses, so I never missed a chance to visit them,” she remembered. When Zoe was 10 years-old, an older 4-H youth noticed her consistent interest in horses and started helping her find more opportunities to spend time with them. “Being encouraged by older youth and Extension educators really shaped who I am today. I know how great it felt to be mentored, so I do the same for youth who are younger than me.”
As a 4-H Project Bowl coach, Zoe spends time weekly helping the youth on the team build their equine knowledge and practice for events. “I encourage them to ask questions and try things that are out of their comfort zone,” she said. Along with the standard book work, Zoe uses a hands-on learning approach by letting youth ride her trusted steed Maq. “I’m an auditory learner, so I know how hard it can be for youth to learn just by reading. There’s a lot of benefit to doing in addition to seeing.”
The pandemic hasn't swayed Zoe’s commitment to mentor and teach up and coming equestrians. When in-person lessons paused, it gave her the opportunity to create online activities to keep her team learning. And Zoe also used unconventional activities to flex their creative muscles and help them feel connected even from a distance. One of those was pillow sewing. “The purpose of the pillows was to make goals for their horse bowl teams and for themselves. Each youth wrote their goals on slips of fabric and sewed them into a hand-sewed pillow.”
Zoe is still exploring her college and career possibilities, she is leaning toward veterinary medicine or farm management. “I know that the 4-H awards I've received will help me earn scholarships when I’m ready for college,” she said. And the leadership skills she’s developed along the way will certainly serve her well in whatever path she chooses to take.