Few activities enable youth to visit the home of the Kentucky Derby, but the Massachusetts 4-H Horse Program does! For many years, youth have enjoyed the trip to Louisville, Kentucky, to compete in the Eastern National 4-H Horse Roundup held at the Kentucky Fair & Expo Center.
Sixteen senior 4-Hers embarked on this four-day trip to compete in contests including Communications, Hippology, Horse Judging, and Horse Bowl. The four teams consist of youth who may show horses competitively and all are members of 4-H horse clubs in Massachusetts. This year, the members of the Massachusetts 4-H Horse Communications Team distinguished themselves with a first-place finish in the competition. The Horse Bowl, Hippology, and Horse Judging teams all competed well in their respective categories. All participants sharpened their leadership skills in problem solving and teamwork while improving their written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills.
Darlene Welch, the winning Horse Communications team’s coach and a former Foundation Trustee, believes the trip is incredibly valuable for 4-Hers. While in Louisville, the youth visit Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum, Kentucky Horse Park, and Claiborne Farm, the final resting place of the famed horse, Secretariat. “They get a chance to travel to a part of the United States rich in horse history,” said Darlene.
This competition puts many of the skills that youth learn through 4-H into action. The Communications team start their preparation for the competition in the spring, practicing for four to five months. Though they begin their quest at the county level, their presentations may evolve as they move from local to state to national competitions.
Their leadership and teamwork skills are put into practice as they compete in three divisions of the Horse Communications contest: Public Speaking, Individual, and Team (two participants). Each contestant or team is assigned a specific timeslot. Public speaking participants talk for up to ten minutes, individuals speak for up to 12 minutes, and teams talk for up to 15 minutes. Entrants are penalized if they go over the time limits.
Following the presentation, the contestants take questions from judges. “Questions can hurt a team if they don’t know their subject really well,” explained Darlene. Selecting a speech topic can be tricky; it must be age appropriate. “The most challenging part is that the process is subjective, the judges may or may not like the topic,” said Darlene.
Susan Barrows, who competed in the 2022 Team Presentation, found the competition challenging for two reasons. “It’s definitely a lot of teamwork, having to speak at the same level of enthusiasm and volume,” she said. She also noted that each team member is required to talk for the same amount of time, including during the question segment.
Susan shared that visiting Louisville has been rewarding. “The biggest benefit is the experience. I have met some of my best friends on this trip, and I enjoy meeting people who share my interests. The experience is incredible and teaches us things that we cannot learn here.”