No horsing around: 4-H, FFA members learn equine judging skills

HARRINGTON — It’s hard to walk far at the Delaware State Fair without seeing some farm animals.

Wednesday morning, a rooster strutted the grounds on its owner’s leash. Toddlers giggled while they fed goats. And a cow delivered a calf, who was named Lucy.

For 4-H and FFA members at the Quillen Arena, though, it was all about the horses. The group practiced judging horses and gained important experience along the way.

“They’re learning evaluation skills that can be used into adulthood,” said Holly Hufford, a Smyrna Middle School agriscience teacher and FFA advisor.

In the halter class, the kids judged painted geldings, miniature geldings and quarter horse mares. The volunteer handlers held the horses straight, offering front, side and rear views. They walked the horses to and fro.

The young judges lined up and watched carefully, marking their sheets and taking turns to look at each horse.

The afternoon heat still hadn’t set in, and bystanders in the Quillen Arena chatted from the stands and watched the students work.

As the participants headed back to the stands, organizers set up for the performance classes, and English pleasure ponies, then hunter hacks, paraded into the arena.

Horses kicked up dust as they showed off with their riders, trotting, cantoring and jumping for the judges.

Organizers chose horses for the contest from those exhibited at the fair, said Ms. Hufford, volunteer handlers also help make the event possible.

For the event, students practice how “to defend their choices and justify their placements using terminology that’s relevant to the industry,” said Brynn Bailey, an agriscience teacher at Meredith Middle School.

After they had evaluated the horses, the young judges were also tasked to prepare oral reasons for some of their choices.

“You actually have to tell someone why you liked that horse, instead of saying, ‘It’s a pretty horse,’” said Haley Reynolds, a 4-H member from Lewes.

“It’s a really great experience to learn what to look for in horses. It’s a lot of fun, I think. It’s great on your resume,” said her friend Sara Deason from Harrington.

Sara, who was walking to the Centre Ice Rink with the rest of the group to finish judging, said she hopes to be a game warden one day.

She and Haley knew what to look for in horses. They “grew up on it,” she said, and the two shared the same horse trainer, a halter judge who drilled the standards into their heads.

Sara and Haley said they enjoy the friendship and skills that 4-H offers — and they always look forward to participating in activities at the Delaware State Fair.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” Sara said.

“It’s happy and sad, because you know the summer is ending,” Hailey said.

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