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This year will mark my eighth year in 4-H. When asked why I have stayed in 4-H that long, I always say, “Because every year offers something new and exciting.”
Take this year, for example. In March, the Creston Valley 4-H Horse Club got to enjoy a spectacular equine session with the Koot ‘n’Neigh Vaulters, a group of horse vaulters based out of Castlegar. We were taught the basics of vaulting on the ground, and then graduated to the barrel, before mounting the horses themselves.
Koot’n’Neigh had brought two of their own vaulting horses along. One was a 14 hands high Bashkir Curly, which seemed to be just a natural vaulter. The other was a 17 hands-high warmblood mix, which was still learning the routine.
The first few moves that we learned (the flag, the princess, and the hunter) were hard to grasp in the beginning. I wasn’t the only one just about falling off the barrel! But by the end of our day, it was truly amazing. Members were standing on the horses’ backs as the horses walked on the longe line, and we even tried some moves at the trot, tried some doubling up poses and practiced sliding dismounts off of the horses’ hind ends! We had a great time, and it was good to see another side of the horse world.
The Koot’n’Neigh club members demonstrated a few of their routines for us, too. The tiny tots — three members just 5 and 6 years old, did some absolutely amazing moves set to music — and the older girls were incredible — performing ballet type moves all around the horses as they cantered around the circle. It was, quite simply, breathtaking.
The vaulting clinic was actually only one of three exciting 4-H clinics that we have been fortunate enough to have participated in this year at Diamond Cross Arena.
Early in the winter, we were treated to a TREC (Technique de Randonnée Équestre de Compétition) clinic with Jocelyn Templeman from Trail. TREC is a relatively new equine discipline and resembles a competitive trail event. Riders are striving to have control over their horse at all gaits and are given points, for example, for having the slowest canter that does not break down to a trot, the slowest trot that doesn’t break down to a walk and the fastest walk that doesn’t break into a trot. In addition, riders and their mounts encounter a host of obstacles—bridges, tarps, low branches, gates, poles, jumps, narrow corridors, etc. –which they must traverse with competence and confidence. There is also an orienteering component to TREC which involves navigating a compass and following intricate maps, which, of course, is best completed outside the arena.
TREC was new to us at 4-H and we certainly enjoyed our day with Jocelyn and learned a great deal about our horses, as well as ourselves. I think that that’s one of the most important things about working with horses. Every time you challenge your mount to encounter something new, you are also challenging yourself with how you respond. And horses teach us over and over again the value of patience and persistence.
I experienced that during our January clinic with Wendy Price. Wendy is a western coach certified through Equine Canada. She offered our 4-H club a full-day clinic on the basics of good riding and helped each of us overcome some specific problems that we were having with our horses. Cookie and I were working on collection and patience at the trot and canter. Sometimes we both just get a little too far ahead of ourselves and become frustrated. It’s really important, sometimes, to just take a step back and slow down.
Our day with Wendy was wonderful. She also reviewed for us some good husbandry practices and she gave us group lessons on showmanship and horsemanship. We really appreciated her skill and knowledge.
Throughout the winter months we also had our regular riding lessons and fun days hosted by our 4-H horse project leader, Meagan Leslie. Even here, though, we encountered something new. We have new horses and new members this year — including Devon and India, Marlese and Sugar, and Stina and Cookie.
When it came time to public speaking competitions in February, we were also happy to congratulate some first-time district winners: Devon van der Merwe (first in junior) Sue Anne van der Merwe (second in junior), Marlise Tessman (third in junior) and Elizabeth Brown (fourth in senior). Not only that, but when we hosted our regional public speaking competition, we were also pleased to welcome some first-time judges — including David Mutch, Shirley Conrad and Wendy McNamar.
Our 4-H horse club year is always busy. It starts off in September with our registrations and our kickoff event — our annual clean up of the Goat River Bottom. This time around, though, it turned into a district event, with members from other 4-H projects joining in — and some prospective members checking us out.
Then we headed for Rock Lake Camp and our fall camping experience with other clubs in the region. It was a fun filled weekend with 4-H members from Grasmere, Fernie, Cranbrook and all sorts of places in between. And what was new this year? Well, let’s just say it’s not every day that you have to stick your head into a bowl full of whipped cream to find some bubblegum balls, chew them as fast as you can and blow the very first bubble (with a mouth full of braces) as your team members are cheering you on. 4-H can get a little goofy at times. But it sure teaches you a lot about teamwork.
For Halloween, we attended the Halloween Hoedown Horse Show in Trail. We had a spooky good time and won some awesome ribbons and prizes. We also had a club bowling party this year, and our traditional family skating party, as well as our participation in the Christmas Parade. And this year, for the very first time, I actually sat on the float, instead of carrying the flag!
4-H for me just never gets old. Over spring break I went to Naramata for a weeklong provincial club event, which was simply wonderful. I reconnected with some old 4-H friends, met some new ones and learned some important skills about leadership, problem solving and identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. It was a truly memorable experience.
As I am writing this, I am also preparing for our upcoming regional rally day, which will be held at Fort Steele and which will be my first 4-H event as a Kootenay 4-H ambassador. I have a special ambassador training weekend to look forward to later in the month, and an exciting 4-H conference that will be taking place in September, in Montreal!
I can’t possibly recount all of the exciting opportunities that I have experienced over the years through my involvement with 4-H, not to mention all of the absolutely wonderful people that I have met along the way — fellow 4-Hers, 4-H alumni, leaders, clinicians, parents and members of this community .
None of it would have been possible, however, if it were not for the support and generosity of our many, many sponsors. Therefore, on behalf of my fellow 4-H members, I would like to say a sincere, thank you to Home Hardware Building Centre, Mawson’s Sports, Sunset Seed Co., Coles Country Store, Safeway, John Kettle and the Regional District of Central Kootenay, Columbia Basin Trust, Loblaws, Kristi and Diamond Cross Arena, and Cherrybrook Farms.
As this 4-H year winds up for the Creston Valley 4-H Horse Club, we will be working hard to complete our Record Books, and we will be busy getting our horses ready for Achievement Day. But before you know it, it will be time for demonstrations at the Creston Valley Fall Fair and we will start the whole 4-H cycle once again.
Will I be signing up again for next year? You bet! Cookie and I still have some reining patterns to tackle and I also hope to look into some 4-H related agricultural programs overseas. 4-H provides a wealth of opportunities and experiences for kids of all ages, and all interests. If you’re curious, why not give it a try. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did!
— BY ALEXANDRA HAYES