Doing the “Heart” Work
4-H Horse Trainer Earns National Acclaim
Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson
Mississippi 4-H youth horse instructor Tom McBeath takes great pride in having taught two generations of students, and he is now recognized as one of the best in the country at what he does.
In 2017, he was named the American Youth Horse Council Adult Leader of the Year for his almost four decades of volunteer work for the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“Being recognized in this way was not something I had expected or thought about, because you don’t do this for awards,” McBeath says. “When I was told I was a finalist, I was surprised and honored.”
Dr. Dean Jousan, associate Extension professor and 4-H livestock specialist, said McBeath has provided assistance as a trainer, parent, volunteer, officer, and in other capacities for the Mississippi 4-H youth development program and surrounding states at the local, county, district, state, regional, and national levels.
“It is not often that our Mississippi volunteers receive national recognition, especially in the horse industry,” Jousan says. “Tom is one of the most respected people I have met in my professional career. His success in the show ring as a trainer of horses and exhibitors can be compared to the best of all time, yet he is humble, caring, compassionate, and he has a true passion for connecting youth with horses.”
McBeath’s service is perhaps most visible through his involvement in the American Quarter Horse Association. He has been involved with the organization as the state vice president and president for Mississippi’s AQHA chapter and currently serves on its horse shows committee. He regularly judges state 4-H horse shows across the country each year and trains Mississippi 4-H’ers for competitions.
“Tom regularly has a group of 4-H’ers who train under his direction and are very competitive from the local to national level,” Jousan said. “Some of his top riders have earned scholarships on collegiate equestrian teams to continue their development.”
One of the riders is MSU junior Sabrina Turner, who competes on the university’s equestrian team. Turner says McBeath taught her the value of giving back to others through his volunteer work with the Dixie National Equestrians with Disabilities Horse Show.
“He has taught me that, in today’s equine world, so much more could be accomplished if everyone would just volunteer a little of their time to help work equine events,” Turner says. “The industry has turned to professionally run horse shows with hired people running them and higher fees for the participants, but Mr. Tom has helped keep those fees as low as possible for everyone by volunteering and organizing many of the shows himself with the help of his family.
“He also taught me that you only get out of horse showing what you put in it,” she adds. “If you want to be successful, you have to put in the time and effort to know your horse.”
Several former 4-H’ers whom McBeath taught have brought their children back to train under him. He enjoys seeing familiar faces who have been and continue to be invested in horse riding as a youth development tool.
“Working with second-generation students is special,” he says, “because many of them remind me of their parents and the teaching styles they responded to the most.”
McBeath adds that he has always wanted the best for both his students and the 4-H horse institution as a whole.
“We are raising our kids to become adults by teaching them responsibility and work ethic, and we’re using the horses to do that,” he says. “The competitive aspect of 4-H horse shows teaches our young people skills and characteristics that help them grow and become the leaders of tomorrow.”