COLUMBIA, Mo. - Mercer and Gentry county 4-H horse club members took top prizes in team and individual competition at the University of Missouri Extension state 4-H Horse Judging Contest in Columbia, March 15.
In the senior division, ages 14 to 18, the Mercer County team won first place. Team members included: Jamie Hart, Princeton, Mo.; Jake Letner, Harris, Mo.; Mattie Lynch, Spickard, Mo.; and Emily Morgan, Wheeling, Mo., in Linn County. The team will now advance to the Eastern National 4-H Roundup competition in Louisville, Ky., in November.
In individual competition Hart also took the top prize, and Morgan placed sixth overall.
Three Gentry County 4-H members won first place in the junior division, ages 8 to 13. Team members are: Zach DeJoode, Rea, Mo.; Laura Runde, Ravenwood, Mo.; and Garrett Stegman, King City, Mo.
Runde also won first in the individual contest, and DeJoode placed second. This is the third year in a row the junior team has won the division, said Ben Gallup, MU Extension 4-H youth specialist.
The northwest Missouri youths were among 150 participants from around the state who tested their ability to judge horse traits from several breed classes at the MU Trowbridge Livestock Center.
To compete, participants must know several horse classes and breeds, their ideal traits, and be able to evaluate a group of four horses from each class. Each class has specific ideal traits, which include features such as body size, muscle tone, head shape, leg line, and how a horse walks and tracks. Competitors must then rank each horse based on the class ideal and give oral reasons explaining their decisions to a panel of judges.
"Quarter horse mares will be judged very differently from Arabians, and they'll have markedly different ideal traits," said Marci Jennings, MU Extension equine specialist. "The students should be able to look at the horses and explain why the first beat the second, the second beat the third, and so on."
Gallup said judging contests teach youth about more than livestock: they foster critical life skills. The challenge of learning and articulating equine differences also is a valuable hands-on form of youth development, he said.
"There are certain ingredients you use to build a cake - you mix flour, eggs, sugar. It's the same with building good kids," he said. "We hope to build team experience and skill sets like public speaking, a sense of generosity, and a sense of independence. The judging process is just one tool that 4-H has used since the beginning."
A judging clinic at the same time as the contest taught youth less familiar with horses or judging how to evaluate horses, and stressed how horse form affects function.
Upcoming 4-H equine events include the 4-H Horse Bowl Contest on April 19 and the state 4-H Hippology Contest on April 20. Both will take place in Columbia at the MU Animal Science Research Center.
Youth who want to join a 4-H horse club should contact their local MU Extension office.