Wearing a western-style shirt, a black cowboy hat and a pair of boots, 10-year-old Sophie Dechant tugged on her horse’s reins and led her into the indoor arena to show her off.
Belize, a 7-year-old buckskin mare, faithfully followed, her nose subtly bobbing up and down as he walked.
Sophie was one of about 25 participants in the 4-H Horse Show, which took place Saturday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Participants, ages 7 to 18, competed in showmanship and riding.
The riding portion include barrel racing, flag racing and egg racing (where each rider held a spoon with an egg on it, riding until it slid off). There was also an obstacle course where horses had to back up, lunge over bridges and jump mailboxes.
Many children and teenagers didn’t have to do anything extra to prepare. Most of them ride and train their horses as is, said Bill Wood, county extension agent and 4-H organizer.
“A lot of kids ride year-round,” Wood said. “We’re fortunate here in Douglas County to have an indoor arena, so they can come in during the winter and ride.”
There were a lot of newcomers this year, Wood said. Among them was Lauren O’Dea, 11, who showed Wrangler, an 18-year-old rescue, who earned a red ribbon for showmanship.
“I just like to have fun and hang out with my buddy,” Lauren said.
Sharla O’Dea, Lauren’s mother, said 4-H and the horse show has helped strengthen Lauren’s responsibility and confidence.
“I love the structure; I love the responsibility,” Sharla said. “I just think it’s an incredible experience all the way around. She’s gaining confidence in herself.”
And confidence is only one of the benefits, said Wood, who has overseen the event for 13 years. For him, part of the pleasure comes from watching the 4-H members grow from children to adults.
“I’ve seen them go from 7 years old to 18 and graduates,” Wood said. “I like to watch them grow.”
Heather Ikenberry, 17, has been involved in 4-H since the fourth grade. This year she showed Jane, an 8-year-old quarter horse who is laid-back and obliging. For the event, Ikenberry clipped the hairs on Jane’s nose, trimmed the whiskers under her eyes and in her ears, and cut the tuft of hair at the back of her neck — what’s called the bridle path.
“For people, it’s like you’re getting ready to go to a big, fancy event; (the show) is pretty much like that with horses,” Ikenberry said. “You’re just getting them all prettied up.”
Judging can get nuanced. And it can be tough to coordinate correct movements in the horse if you’re not experienced, Ikenberry said. But Ikenberry doesn’t stress over the competitive elements of the show.
“I don’t have a lot of experience,” Ikenberry said. “We’re just learning, the both of us, because she’s about as experienced as I am. Hopefully, later we get more competitive, but (for now) we’re just here to learn and have fun.”