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4-H Horse Clubs Teach Youth to Ride Tall in the Saddle

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ashlyn McDevitt is soft spoken by nature, but when she and her horse get in the show ring, her demeanor sends a message that’s loud and clear.

“I smile at the judges and walk around like I own the arena,” she said. “I learned through practice and coaching to show my horse like he’s worth a million bucks.”

Unlike some of her competitors, Ashlyn doesn’t have a flashy outfit or a horse with a pedigree. Instead, she hopes the judges will notice her confidence and the months of hard work she’s put into the performance.

It’s a strategy Ashlyn has picked up as a member of the Cherokee Riders 4-H Club in Walton County, Florida. Florida 4-H is the youth development program of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. Though Ashlyn loves to ride, as a 4-H member, she’s learned about more than just showing horses.

“Although agriculture is a big part of 4-H, the role of 4-H in communities is bigger than that,” Ashlyn said. “Thriving 4-H clubs mean thriving kids. My club leaders and Extension agents have become family and are a big part of my life. I have learned how to be a better version of myself and set goals to work toward.”

That drive for improvement is why Ashlyn devotes two to four hours a day training with Storm, a rescue horse she started riding about two years ago.

They spend that time learning and practicing their show routines. It takes about three days to teach Storm a new maneuver, she said.

“Showmanship is where you guide your horse through a pattern on the ground. Here, all the time and effort you’ve put in—or lack thereof—show up,” Ashlyn said. “The judge will see if you have spent months preparing with your horse or if you pulled your horse out of the pasture that morning and decided to go to the show.”

Outside the ring, Ashlyn sets goals for her club, holding several leadership positions in the Cherokee Riders, including club president.

“The most important thing I’ve learned from being in 4-H is to know the value of your own thoughts and opinions, as well as those of others,” she said. “I’m a quiet person, but in order for the club to get anything done, someone needs to speak up, know what they want and keep at it until they get it.”

To find a 4-H horse club near you, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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