Coming of Age
4-H'er Millie Thompson, center, with parents Johnny and Inger Thompson
4-H builds teen's life skills
On first glance, she seems an ordinary teen, but Oktibbeha County 4-H’er Millie Thompson has an exceptional work ethic, and she’s achieved success at the national level. Everything she does is inspired by Ecclesiastes 9:10, she says.
Millie is especially enthusiastic about competing with and learning from other 4-H’ers who participate in the horse program. She’s serious about her education and her future.
“Faith. Family. Horses,” she emphasizes. “Add the three together, and that’s my daily life. The Lord is first, and everything I do, I’m doing for the glory of God. Also, my parents are so important in my life. I couldn’t do all the things I’ve done without the help and support of my parents.
“The main thing we do as a family is ride and take care of the horses,” Millie continues. “4-H gives me the opportunity to build my faith through family and the shows, and I can let my light shine for the Lord.”
Millie is one of 12 children, all of whom ride and show horses. The 4-H youth development program, administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, has always been a big part of her life.
The lessons she’s learned from 4-H horse-showing competitions have increased and enhanced her commitment to her responsibilities with her siblings, the family’s horse barn, and the horses themselves, she says.
“My mom was riding horses even when she was pregnant with me, and I was already in the show ring by the time I was about 5 years old,” Millie explains. “My grandfather and my mom both showed horses and livestock and greatly enjoyed and benefited from their experiences in 4-H.
“There are countless character traits and life lessons you can learn and put into practice while riding and caring for your horses, such as responsibility, diligence, patience, love, and hard work,” she continues. “I’m very thankful that God has given me and my family so many opportunities to praise, honor, and glorify him.”
Millie is an experienced horsewoman, having grown up riding in western, English, and ranch styles. Her family owns registered quarter horses, grade horses, and ponies. Millie is responsible for their barn.
Millie first participated in 4-H horse judging when she was 9, and, a few years later, she competed for national honors at the senior horse-judging contest, the Western National Roundup annually held in Denver, Colorado. In early 2013, Millie’s team won first place in the horse-judging halter class. Millie won second place for horse-judging individual in halter.
Millie explained that, after winning a competition, 4-H’ers are not allowed to compete in that category again.
“So after we won senior horse judging, I helped start the hippology team, which is focused on the study of horses,” she says. “We qualified for the nationals held in January 2017.”
Millie’s team placed in the top 10 of every group contest: Mississippi placed eighth in team judging and ninth in the team problem contest, while the Magnolia State students placed tenth in team exam/slides, team station IDs, and team totals.
For Millie, competing at the highest national levels was just one more chance to take advantage of the skills 4-H taught her.
“4-H is a wonderful opportunity to go in there and learn. 4-H horse programs are all about learning—learning to be able to understand what to do, learning to work hard, learning by doing. You’re encouraged to compete at the highest level, but 4-H shows you how to get to that level.”
She lists the many 4-H leaders she’s worked with over the years, including LaTrell Stokes, Oktibbeha County Extension 4-H agent; Julie White, Extension associate; Dr. Clay Cavinder, Extension horse specialist; Dr. Dean Jousan, Extension 4-H livestock specialist; and Gale Chrestman, retired 4-H livestock specialist.
“In 4-H, they’re all willing to help. In 4-H, all the agents and specialists want us to succeed. They want to see everyone do well and improve,” she says. “They really make it all about the kids. I’m really grateful for all the help and support they’ve given me throughout the process. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
In fact, though Millie recently aged out of 4-H, she’s not ready to stop riding or showing horses, and she plans to continue assisting her siblings as they prepare and compete.
“4-H gives you the wonderful opportunity to go in there and learn responsibility, good attitude, and good heart,” Millie continues. “4-H teaches you to overcome challenges all on your own.”