This article is from the Summer 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
Keeping a horse can be a pricey undertaking. Many kids who are hooked on horses just don’t have the opportunity to ride, let alone own a horse. Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development fills this void with Horseless Horse.
The project offers contact with horses and helps youth develop sportsmanship, responsibility, cooperation and decision-making and public speaking skills. Youth learn about breeds, markings, coat colors and gaits. They also learn about horse health, nutrition and grooming. In addition, they study equipment, horsemanship, safety and potential careers.
Horseless Horse is in 45 states, making it possible for more youth to have contact with horses, even urban youth who make up more than half of the national 4-H enrollment. The project continues to grow in Iowa as the 4-H program moves into urban areas.
Iowa’s horse population is 17th in the nation, numbering nearly 200,000 of the estimated 9.2 million horses in the United States, according to the American Horse Council. Some 145,000 Iowans contribute to the equine industry as owners, service providers, employees and volunteers.
Many Iowa horse club leaders use ISU Extension’s Horseless Horse project guide, including Vicki Wade, co-leader of Jasper County Equine Experience. Wade’s group brings together all horse club members from the county for education and practice.
“I use the Horseless Horse project guide during our winter sessions. It’s a great resource for quizzes, diagrams and illustrations. I love working with the kids to watch them develop as informed, caring horse people. It’s a commitment, but so worth the time,” Wade said.
Even for those who live on a farm, “it’s best to be horseless the first year in the project, to see whether your 4-H’er really wants to ride and care for an animal,” said Lisa Broderick, a 4-H parent from Jasper County. The Brodericks leased a horse for their daughter the first year. “He wasn’t a show horse, but it’s not about show; it’s about learning horse safety.”
Many county 4-H leaders find ways to pull together a group of people who are willing to donate, lease and transport horses so that youth have an opportunity to be around live animals, get acquainted with them and learn to ride. Contact your local ISU Extension county office for ways to become involved.