Lessons taught, friendship deepened and skills learned

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

By Matthew McClellan

Special to the Post

As a 4-H agent I get to spend my days planning and implementing programs for youth that I hope will be fun, interactive, exciting and will generate a “buzz” in the community about 4-H. But what is the goal of these programs? What is the meaning of 4-H? Why would anyone join a 4-H club or be interested in what we do at the Cooperative Extension? Well, let me relay a story sent to me by one of Rowan County’s current 4-H members, Micah Furr, about her experience at horse camp earlier this month.

“Have you ever slept in a stall? Participated in a cow-penning competition? Met some of the best clinicians and trainers in North Carolina? Well, that’s what we were able to experience at the West District Horse Camp in Fletcher.

“Arriving Sunday night, we unpacked and prepared our rooms (stalls). Some brought Enos and hung them in the stalls, some slept in the fronts of their trailers and others brought cots, but everyone decorated their areas to suit their personalities. The first night is generally noisy with the horses getting situated but each night (as the horses get more tired) is better. At the West District Horse Camp, I was taught more about showmanship, equitation and western pleasure by our clinician, Paul Marlowe. He helped us in the “gaited” division, teaching mostly Paso Fino and Tennessee walking horses.

“At the west district camp, there are several divisions to be in: gaited, hunt seat, western, gaming and cloverbud. Now, ask any camper that attended and they will say that Tuesday night is always one of the most memorable. The ‘horseless games’ are a tradition of the camp. I’ll leave the games played to the imagination but I will say that there was an epic water balloon fight at the very end.

“On the last day, Wednesday, we practiced our dressage patterns for the state show and participated in a cow-penning challenge. My horse absolutely loved bossing the cows around and with the help of the ‘professionals’ we were able to successfully pen the different cows several times. For anyone who looks to refine their skills, wants to learn something new or simply just wants to enjoy their horse — this is the camp for that. Not only have I made life-long friends from all around the state at horse camp but I have also strengthened the bond between my horse and I.”

At horse camp, Micah learned and improved her horsemanship skill, that’s absolutely true, but was that the true goal of the program? In a word, no. The goal of that program, and every 4-H program, is to teach life skills; skills like time management, decision making, problem solving, stress management, leadership, empathy and cooperation. Those are the true lessons that Micah learned while at horse camp.

Making friendships, learning how to be part of a team, deepening her knowledge of how to care for her horse and her self confidence are all skills that she came away from the camp with, and none of that was on the program agenda. Those skills have been proven to make youth less likely to engage in risky behavior, more likely to succeed in school, and more likely to become leaders as adults; as a parent, wouldn’t you like to equip your child with every possible tool to help them succeed? Knowing that they are participating in a group where they will have fun as well as learning these skills is just the icing on the cake!

Here in Rowan County we have many opportunities for youth to engage with the 4-H program from shooting sports to leadership and, yes, horses. If you would like more information about 4-H and all the wonderful things that we are doing in Rowan County, please give me a call at the Extension Office 704-216-8970 or via email at matthew_mcclellan@ncsu.edu.

We also do currently have spaces available in at least one of the horse clubs, and if you would like more information about those openings, please contact Sarah Todd with the Horsin’ Around 4-H Club at 704-224-2941 or via email at southernstarperformancehorses@gmail.com.

Matthew McClellan is the 4-H Extension Agent for Rowan County.