MIFFLINTOWN - Big changes are coming to Pennsylvania's State 4-H Horse Show, changing the way Juniata County 4-H Extension handles enrollment in the future.
The state program, run by the College of Agricultural Sciences of Penn State University, handles a variety of 4-H programs in every county of the state. The Equine Extension of this department runs the many events for horse activities in the counties, one of which is the yearly state show typically held in late October. The show is well attended by youth showers and spectators alike from pretty much every county, however, the number of youth showers has declined as the state enrollment has dropped. The state program has decided on some changes to help increase the enrollment in the equine program, which is what Juniata County Program Assistant Teresa Ellinger hopes will happen.
"We have one very small (horse) club in the county," Ellinger said. "Our enrollment is down and we do not have a strong leadership, which is a key component in 4-H to have high involvement and enrollment."
Sentinel photo by LAUREN KERSHNER
Counties at the State 4-H Horse show are able to decorate the horse stalls assigned to them. The individual counties are able to decorate to their discretion, although the decorations do not count toward any end-of-show awards.
Ellinger also said the changes are being put in place to advance the program overall and that is a big step in the right direction. The biggest change was the decision to split the large state show into two smaller shows.
The current show has two different divisions, one called performance and the other called production. The performance division is made up of classes which allow riders of all skill levels to show a horse 4 or more years old.
The production division focuses on the showing of foals/colts/babies from the age of weanlings to 5 years old. Currently, riders who wish to show in performance participate in two qualifying shows with different criteria at each of the shows, one being at the county level and the other at the regional level, having to first qualify for the regional show at the county level. Those youth who wish to show in production simply need to receive a first place merit ribbon at a regional show to qualify for the state show.
In 2014, two separate shows will be held - one focusing on performance and the other focusing on production. While no changes are happening at the qualifying level for performance, in production the regional shows are being eliminated, which will cause the new state production show to be a multi-day show rather than a one-day event.
"This is a positive step in the right direction," Ellinger said. "Many of us (program assistants) have been trying to propose similar changes for many years now and it is nice that the state level has finally recognized the need for changes."
While these steps have seemed like a long time coming, the shows aren't simply being separated without making other changes. In both cases, classes have been added to help with the appeal of the shows. The performance division will see the addition of beginner classes for new youth in their first or second year of showing. These classes include separating the gymkhana "gaming" classes into junior and senior riders in all classes, along with the separation of classes into youth, intermediate and senior divisions allowing more riders to advance to the state level.
"The changes to add these beginner classes will help to make every show move faster," Ellinger said. "I think that breaking up each class into smaller classes will not cause so much of a back-up during the show day, while giving more inexperienced kids the opportunity to gain experience."
Ellinger also said since the 4-H motto is "Learn by Doing," these changes support the motto and hopefully will encourage younger riders to join the program, helping to stem the enrollment losses.
"These changes show local youth that we are really trying to help these younger riders gain not only experience, but also knowledge in the process," Ellinger said. "It shows others (equine show series organizations) that we are not just another group where you can show up and simply show, but create a true learning environment."
In the production division, there will be the addition of more halter "in-hand" classes as well as more riding level classes for riders to show the training of horses they are working with. Also, for production more awards are being added, including a Master Showmanship award in all classes and a Champion Showmanship award determined in a class made of all Master Showmanship award recipients.
"Anything that you can do to encourage these young kids, of all ages, is to present them with a challenge and some will be challenged by this award," Ellinger said. "Some kids simply do the showmanship because it is a requirement for their performance division, but this helps them to take it more seriously."
Ellinger continued to say while these changes may deter some from showing, she believes that this change will help to increase the enrollment of youth in Juniata County.
"I truly hope the changes help over all," Ellinger said. "These changes will help the younger riders in the county advance and keep them enrolled."
Thomas Walker, Extension District Director, agrees with Ellinger that the changes will help the enrollment in Juniata County.
"I think it is going give a broader scope of classes and activities for both youth and families," Walker said. "The changes help to open the door for more skill development."
Walker also said the changes will help build the volunteer base in the county, which will come with the involvement of more youth. He said most of the volunteers in 4-H come from the parents who help the youth with their projects. In turn, most of the heavily-involved kids have heavily-involved parents. Walker said he believes the changes will help with this never-ending battle.
Ellinger said she believes the kids who are now enrolled will stay enrolled with these changes. However, keeping youth enrolled is only half of the battle. The other half of the battle is to outreach to the local community, building the enrollment through promoting 4-H and the opportunities that it provides youth.