UACES Facebook Horse shows, 4-H programs provide accountability, leadership
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Horse shows, 4-H programs provide accountability, leadership

By Meleah Perez
U of A System Division of Agriculture
June 15, 2017 

Fast Facts:

  • Horse shows are part of 4-H’s youth mission
  • Nearly 6 million participate in 4-H 

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When Nathania Mckenzie, 17, joined 4-H at the age of 11, she really didn’t know if she’d stick with it. 


“I wasn’t really sure about it, but once I got more involved, I knew it was the thing for me,” she said. “I’m more of a leader.” 

Nathania and her 9-year old sister, Alyssa Leonard, are among millions of youth across the country participating in 4-H clubs at any given time (about 6 million people are members, according to the 4-H website). A big draw for many of the young people who participate is the interaction with animals and other outdoor activities, including horse shows. 

A big part of Nathania’s decision to stay in the organization throughout her teenage years, she said, were the horse shows. She was encouraged by her mother, Lori Leonard. 

“They’re (horse shows) really a great opportunity for the 4-H’ers to give them something to work toward,” Leonard said. 

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for horse kids, in particular, to showcase what they do,” she said. “It gives kids specific goals.” 

“It’s really nice to be able to make an impact on some of the other youth and show them what they can become through hard work and dedication,” Mckenzie said. She said horse shows have made her more aware of opportunities and how hard people must work to achieve what they want. 

“Nothing is handed to you,” Mckenzie said. 

Horse shows are also a popular 4-H project, said Johnny Gunsaulis, Benton County extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. 

Participants range from 5-19 years old with classes for certain age groups, Gunsaulis said.

Most classes require a lot of practice between the horse and rider because judges base their decisions on riders’ abilities to make horses perform their commands, he said. 

“It teaches responsibility, dedication, persistence and patience,” Gunsaulis said. 

4-H’s youth development goal is to prepare young people for a career and make them productive members of society, said Mark Russell, an assistant professor of animal science with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. Horse shows are more about how the youth prepares and responds to them, rather than about the horses, Russell said. 

The Arkansas State Horse Show will be from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day from July 11-14 at the White County Fairgrounds in Searcy, Arkansas. 

There will be a variety of events ranging from ranch classes, judged performances and speed events, Russell said.

Officials at the state horse are expecting about 125 participants, Russell said. 

“The horse shows teach youth responsibility and how to set goals,” Russell said. “The horse is merely a means of getting them to that point. Just as if it were cattle or any other subject matter.” 

Mckenzie prepares for horse shows months in advance. She grooms her horse throughout the months and works out to keep appearances sharp, she said. This discipline affects her in her daily routines as well. 

“You learn a lot about time management,” she said. “Whenever I’m learning something new in school, I want to start studying for the test then, so I’m more prepared by the time the test rolls around.” 

Other 4-H programs have these same principles but use different subject matter to teach, Russell said. 

“The impact is that we are offering youth a place to showcase the hard work that they have put into their animals throughout the year,” he said. “It also potentially helps them with career decisions and career/college prep.” 

To learn more about 4-H programs available throughout Arkansas, contact your local Coopertative Extension Service agent or visit


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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