OTTUMWA — In the heat of an Iowa summer, 17 4-H members brought a year's worth of work into the horse show ring Tuesday.
The Wapello County 4-H Expo had one event scheduled for the day because it literally takes all day. The horse show was held in the Greater Ottumwa Park arena under the blazing sun, but that didn't stop the showmanship or the educational opportunities.
Members of the horse project hold meetings and clinics throughout the year, the horse judging team will be going to the national competition in Oklahoma and can even be part of a quiz bowl. But the expo show is the culmination of all that learning.
"The meetings and clinics are a good foundation for what they're going to do out here," said Laci Morrissey, the chairwoman of the horse committee, which consists of parents and community members. "They're learning about show preparation, safety and horse management."
At the end of the day, champions and high-point winners were announced. The long schedule included 40 classes, including in-hand, pleasure, speed and several fun events. Morissey says the 4-H members can do a little bit of everything or decide to specialize.
While Clover Kids is designed for students in kindergarten through third grade, only 4-H members in fourth grade through 12th grade compete in the horse show. The age groups are divided up for more competition.
Austin Angle, 14, is a member of the Hooves and Hats 4-H Club. He's participated in the horse program since third grade, and he has been deeply influenced by his family. His dad, Aaron, was in 4-H as well, and Austin just wanted to show horses.
"You work all year to be ready," he said. "You make sure they're healthy, take care of them. Then before the show, you make sure they're not too fat and not too skinny. It's part of making sure they're healthy."
The judge was looking for certain things in each different class of the horse show. From an educational standpoint, she was able to describe on each individual winner what traits stood out and why she chose the winner she chose. This gives the 4-H kids something to remember and strive for in the upcoming year.
Austin had already placed first or second in each of his classes after the first hour of judging. He explained that the judge isn't just looking at the horse, but the showman has to be at his best, too.
"In the show ring, it's all on the showman," he said. "You have to show that you know what you're doing and how to do it right. You have to have control, so that if a horse acts up, you know how to take care of it."
As part of the horse judging team going to the national competition, Austin is working hard to learn all he can about horses and is thinking about ways he can make this a lifelong pursuit. He thinks judging may be that way.
Aaron was in 4-H when he was even younger than his sons are now, and they've always raised horses. It was just natural that they would be part of 4-H, too.
"The boys enjoy it, and it teaches them responsibility," he explained. "It's a lot of work. I help, but they do it all."