4-H Winter Classic marks 10 years improving performance
VERONA, Miss. -- "Practice makes perfect" is the adage organizers of the 4-H Winter Classic believe sums up the 10-year-old horse show that helps 4-H horse program participants prepare for the formal summer show season.
The Winter Classic is open to all Mississippi 4-H'ers. It provides young people an opportunity to participate in two shows per month from January to March before the formal Mississippi 4-H Horse Shows begin in June. The Winter Classic and the Mississippi 4-H Horse Shows are part of the Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H youth development program.
"We started the Winter Classic for kids who were only able to show in Extension district or state shows," said co-organizer and former Union County 4-H volunteer Rebecca Stevens. “Kids who participate in just those events don’t have enough time to learn everything they need to know for the June competitions.”
Each participant must learn his or her horse’s temperament, how to dress, how to enter and exit the show gate, precise show patterns the rider and horse must run, and many other things.
Mississippi 4-H Horse Show participants must abide by strict rules that govern everything from their appearance to the horses they ride. A competitor must provide proof that he or she owns the horse entered in the event and that he or she will stick with that horse throughout the June shows. Judges score participants based on several factors, including their attire and ability to handle their horses in their chosen performance classes.
In the Winter Classic, some of the rules are relaxed. For example, competitors are allowed to ride horses they do not own, and they may participate in as many classes as they want. Organizers wanted the show to be a learning process to improve the scores of the young riders at district and state shows.
“And it has,” said Stewart Teague, co-organizer and former Oktibbeha County 4-H volunteer. “We’ve seen kids get better and better and get higher scores every year. The practice and knowledge they gain at the Winter Classic shows has eliminated a lot of the little mistakes they would make, like an improper gate entrance or wearing the wrong clothes. All the kids help one another. We see a lot of mentoring with the older kids helping the younger ones.”
Noah Carpenter, a 4-H member from Tishomingo County, began showing horses in 4-H about four years ago. His trainer encouraged him to participate in the Winter Classic to get more experience.
“I’ve learned a lot from these shows,” Carpenter said. “I’ve definitely been able to get more experience in a show setting. I’ve also gotten to know my horse better and learned what to do when things don’t go right in the show ring. It has been a lot of fun.”
On March 31, organizers, volunteers, and current and former participants marked the 10th anniversary of the event during the annual awards banquet that recognizes the accomplishments of the 4-H’ers who participate. Awards were given for most improved riders, perfect attendance and leadership skills. Riders with the highest points in each performance class received commemorative belt buckles.
The event also paid tribute to two of the Winter Classic’s original organizers who died during the previous year: Huey Rakestraw and Melissa Scott. Rakestraw came up with the idea for the show to help 4-H’ers improve. Scott was praised as a tireless volunteer who was willing to go above and beyond to help any 4-H’er succeed.
Angie Abrams, 4-H agent in Chickasaw County, said she hopes to see the show continue.
“Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have dedicated parents, 4-H volunteer leaders and Extension agents committed to the show,” Abrams said. “We did not know -- but we had hoped -- that this show would last this long and be this successful. It has been our joy to watch each of these 4-H’ers accomplish new performance classes, make new friends and grow as people.”
The show is governed by a committee made up of 4-H agents and volunteers from Chickasaw, Lee, Pontotoc, Oktibbeha, Tippah and Union counties.