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4-H'ers shadow industry insiders at horse show
JACKSON, Miss. -- When the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show kicks off during the 2015 Dixie National Rodeo Feb. 16, a group of young horse enthusiasts will have already made it through a round of competition to participate in an unusual career development program.
The Mississippi 4-H Dixie National Equine Shadow Program connects 4-H’ers from across the Southeast with a variety of horse show professionals who convene at the State Fairgrounds for several days of competition and exhibition.
Nikki Jefcoat, an agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Jones County, said a committee selects participants from a pool of applicants. Participants then choose which part of the quarter horse show they most want to experience.
While many of the participants show horses through 4-H, some do not.
“The horse show industry isn’t just about riding,” Jefcoat said. “The 4-H’ers can work in the show office and see what it takes to organize an event of this magnitude. They can work in the paddock, help the arena crew, shadow the announcer, participate in the horse sale or work in the expo, which is a trade show of equine-related equipment and supplies.”
For 4-H’ers interested in careers tied to their love of horses, the shadow program expands their understanding of the different roles people play in making a horse show successful for everyone involved.
“The goal of the program is to educate them about the entire show industry, so they get to talk to judges, ring stewards and industry professionals in the different events, such as Western pleasure, roping, halter, reining and various other events,” Jefcoat said. “They get to meet individuals with similar interests from all over the South and the U.S. and figure out if they want to get their judge’s card, become trainers or have an equine-industry-related business.”
Jefcoat said the program is the only one of its kind in the U.S. and this year opened to teens outside Mississippi to better reflect the states participating in the horse show. Four applicants from Kentucky will join this year’s group of participants.
“This is the only program in which 4-H members get hands-on training and instruction from world-class industry professionals at an event of this size and importance,” she said.
Jefcoat, who grew up raising horses, is passionate about the newly revamped equine shadow program and how it will impact the future of the industry.
“I was on a horse before I could walk, and I grew up in 4-H, showing market hogs, cattle and horses,” she said. “The equine industry is like any other agriculture-related industry: The producers are getting older. We need to get young people to invest in the industry now.”
Seventeen-year-old Millie Thompson from Starkville, Mississippi, said applying for the 4-H Dixie National Equine Shadow Program was a quick decision.
“My mom grew up riding horses and even rode when she was pregnant, so you could say I’ve been involved with horses my entire life,” Thompson said.
As one of a dozen Thompson children who ride and one of eight who currently show horses through the Oktibbeha County 4-H program, Thompson was familiar with the nuts and bolts of county, district and state horse shows. But participating in last year’s shadow program offered her a different type of opportunity.
“I wanted to meet and shadow the top trainers in the country so I could get tips for showing,” she said. “I learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to put on a show that big.”
Thompson rides in both Western and English events, including halter, reining, goat tying, ranch sorting, ranch trial, hunt seat equitation and hunter under saddle.
“I watched many different classes during last year’s shadow program, so I was able to take home a lot of information,” she said. “I’ve changed how I ride in some events because I was able to watch those professionals. After I helped set up trail patterns at Dixie Nationals, I came home and set up a pattern a bit differently to apply what I learned.”
Thompson will return to the shadow program in 2015, eager to reunite with people she met last year but also ready to learn more from the pros to help her gain a competitive edge.
“I love to compete against my sisters. I have several siblings in my classes that I compete against,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
For more information about the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show website.
Contact: Nikki Jefcoat, 601-428-5201