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4H an in-house program at lesson barn

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    4H an in-house program at lesson barn

    Talk to me about offering 4H as an in-house program at a lesson barn.

    In these COVID-19 times, we're limiting travel which means showing (and the social aspect that comes with it) is lost for our students. So we're looking at other options (+ potential outreach to the local backyard-type horse kids in our rural area).
    I personally come from a Pony-Club background but out here in the sticks, it's hard to justify the cost of National + Regional memberships (we're a 5 hour round trip from the closest other Club) and I am afraid that because of the fairly low-income area (where most horse owners keep horses at home and participate in local "cheap" open shows) it wouldn't be viable.

    So we're looking at 4-H. Anyone runs a program out of their lesson barn? Any advice?

    The lady who runs my lesson barn in NC has been doing 4-H for a long time as in well over a decade. She had tried Pony Club (she may be doing it still, I'm not sure) and the inter-collegiate/&/or school program, I can't remember its name. She stopped doing that one.

    The stable is hunt seat mostly.

    She seems very happy working within the 4-H framework for her riders.


      We never ran a 4H program but did do the Morgan Youth. At the height of the program we had about thirty-five kids. The Morgan Youth program was designed many years ago, very well thought out with progressions for the kids to earn awards as their knowledge improved.

      My wife and I were on the Department of Ag committee that redesigned the 4H Equine program to allow for kids who did not own a horse to participate. We used the first two levels of the Morgan Youth as guide to change the 4H Equine programs. (Also created a Model Horse division for the inner city was to use Breyer type models as those kids horses, really do not know if that part of 4H ever went forward)

      The first three levels of the Morgan Youth program are general horse knowledge, applicable to any Horse breed... so these might be a good starting point....


        Original Poster

        Thank you both! I'll have a look at the Morgan Youth program for sure.


          I am a 4-H leader and may be able to answer your questions.

          The program is very flexible in terms of goals. There are opportunities to teach whatever you like, and it opens up options to local competitions, if they exist, such as knowledge bowls.

          I think it could be a good way to tie your program in to the local community and perhaps get more local kids into your lesson program. But, to be fully integrated, your kids would also be expected to attend the monthly club meetings, and there are other club-based activities they may get involved with, such as volunteer work, fundraising, etc. Our area has an annual speech/presentation competition. Our kids are expected to submit record books at the end of each year, but that's not, I think, strictly required. There's a small annual fee.

          I'd reach out to your local club leader and feel them out - is this someone you want to work with? In normal times, I'd suggest you attend a meeting. Right now we meet over zoom, so that may be an option but it will not be like normal times.

          To be a 4-H leader you will need to be fingerprinted, you'll have to do annual web-based trainings on safety, and you'll have to follow their rules that include helmets on at all times around horses, etc. In exchange you get some coverage from their insurance. 4-H is run out of the state land grant universities and is usually tied into cooperative extension.

          My county is very active in 4-H with significant clubs in every community. Horse is not as strong here as some of the other projects but it is a large community of kids doing fun stuff. We have a county coordinator with a library that is free to projects to use.

          Ask someone who does this professionally how they separate the business part from the club part and how they handle people who are also clients versus kids who are coming only to meetings. You may not have any kids in that category.

          Depending on your goals, it might work as well to set up your own internal pony club type fun social days and activities and ratings. The barn I used to take my daughter to did that.

          I am in California and some of what I mentioned may be different in your state, but at least it gives you a start on what questions to ask.
          If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


            It’s been years since I researched 4-H, but my main concern would be the actual business/income potential. Do I understand correctly that you don’t think your market will support Pony Club-specific dues, but will support general riding/coaching/lessoning costs? In my experience, 4-H was/is very much volunteer-focused. “DIY” was very much the ideal. None of the club adults were making any money. Few of the kids themselves were part of a structured, trainer-led barn or program. But I suppose that that could just have been that area.

            As a business line, I am more familiar with high school and college programs being run out of private barns.


              I coach a kid who is in 4H. The amount they pay for their 4H lessons is minimal. (I think $15 a lesson, including arena fee).

              A coach friend had a very large, competitive 4H program...but it completely burned her out as she was always chasing for volunteers and coordinating fund raisers so she pulled the plug.

              I think 4H is fantastic...but I don't think it is a money maker for the coach/barn.
              Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                Oh the other thing to know about 4-H is that their rules do not allow kids under 9 years old to handle horses (or any large animal) in a 4-H project.

                If you want to use 4-H as a feeder, it might also work for you to recruit an adult to be a co-leader if you want help with the organizational aspects. It's not necessary for that person to have instructor-level horse knowledge.

                If you have other horse clubs in the area, or a local fair, your club might get some fun new competition opportunities, and there may be other events in the area that have divisions for 4-H (I think competitive trail might). The 4-H branding can be useful for getting a chance to go places on field trips or to get experts to come talk to your group.
                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                  Also remember that, way more than in Pony Club, 4H parents take an important role and you have to manage not only the kids but the parents.

                  Here there are many 4H kids and conflicts between parents eventually resulted in two different 4H groups forming.
                  Most parents are extremely nice and helpful, is those few clueless, pushy ones that can make it unpleasant for others.

                  Since this is more about western way of life and events, there don't seem to be helmets required here.
                  Some of the younger kids do wear a helmet when they remember, but it is not so always.

                  Before COVID, there was one local group using our arena.
                  Since then there seems not to be any 4H activities, just junior rodeos, different groups those.
                  Not sure if and what 4H groups will do in the coming year.
                  May want to consider that also, if there will be continuity or not to their programs.


                    The 4-H helmet rule is apparently by state, but it's the same for any style of riding. The leader is meant to enforce the rule as set by the state policy.

                    As far as parents, there is less of the pony club culture of no parents allowed, but the intent is for it to be child-led and how that is locally will likely vary depending upon what the local people have instituted so far. Unlike with pony club, 4-H kids are often handling animals that are bigger and more dangerous than can be handled by one person, especially one small person - think a 9 year old with her first pig. But there's no reason you can't have a parents-are-hands-off policy for 4-H horse, especially if parents don't have to trailer them in.

                    In our state, we are doing 4-H wholly over zoom right now and we are not allowed to meet in person. I don't think there's any risk that 4-H as a whole is going away.
                    If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                      Original Poster

                      Thank you so much everyone for your thoughtful and detailed responses!

                      Yes, I am not approaching this as a major "money-maker" but rather as poltroon was saying as an outreach to the local community and an opportunity for my students to integrate more with our community (through shows, outings, etc).
                      Of course, it could be helpful in "marketing" our lesson program a bit and perhaps picking up a few more students (and there also seems to be the possibility of leasing mounts to 4H kids) but that's not the main motivation here.

                      Helpful point about the parents too, thanks! And having a co-leader is a great idea and might help with diffusing some of the "politics" I suppose.
                      Most of my students' families are not horsey and I am hoping that perhaps with giving them a more active role (fundraising, etc) there would be more buy-in and support of their kids' lessons. The advantage of 4-H is that it has "name recognition" here and parents might be more likely to support their kids' endeavors if they "understand" the project (horsebowl, etc and there is an end of the season "championship goal" like the Fair). Right now for some families, riding isn't has much a priority as Basketball or Swim Team. These kids are not more interested in swimming than ponies so I think the difference is parental buy-in: Parents attend ball games, coach, transport, organize bake sales, etc. We don't have that local community involvement in the average "typical" riding lesson program.

                      (and a note about Pony-Club to respond to Redlei44 : Pony-Club would very much be my preference as in our State the emphasis of 4H is very much Western Pleasure, going around in circles and even games/speed events have to be ridden in Western tack according to the State rulebook. But out here in the boondocks Pony-Club has no name recognition with the parents - whereas they know 4H. There are no USPC competitions/ratings, etc locally and while parents might be willing to pay $200 towards leasing a horse for the Fair, they are not going to put that towards national and regional fees with what they see as having little ROI).

                      Thanks again everyone!


                        Kirikou, in my area it seems that 4-H is very shaped by local interests and volunteers. It might be that in your area that the existing 4-H would be resistant to english tack, but it may also be that one person standing up and saying, "Hey, I have a bunch of riders who would like to do some gaming in english tack and show english at the fair" is enough to make it happen, if you can get the classes filled.

                        IME, can't budge state rules for state fair locally, but I have had no trouble showing up at the local unrecognized $4 gymkhana with my dressage saddle. My horse got a ton of terrific show miles that way - now a dressage show is a very mellow situation for her. :-)
                        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                          I think any program that teaches kids about good horsemanship, fair play and responsibility is a great idea. I was Pony Clubber way back in the day and the lessons I learned stayed with me. I've seen a lot of 4Hers at our local Fair and their programs seem great for kids. AQHA also has an active Youth organization.


                            My main barn has a 4H program as well. (Very locally-oriented; I think I've seen them pack off to events at the county and maaaybe the state level but it's not really what the program is all about.) There are a lot of local horse-interested kids who love it to pieces who mostly take over the place for an afternoon a week. (They're not at all awful, but the ambient activity and energy level goes up several notches.)

                            I think it does feed the lesson program to some degree, and the farm gets some volunteer labor out of it, but I'm basically in agreement with the above that it's more about goodwill and community engagement than anything.


                              I can't speak for the riding aspect of 4H, but I was a leader or co-leader for horse judging and horse bowl (and other, non-horsy) projects. Most of our kids didn't have horses to ride, hence the book-learning. Our kids loved-loved-loved horse bowl and were pretty competitive at it. We all really liked learning conformation and examining horses for horse bowl - we learned a bunch, kids and adults alike - but none of us adored competing in the actual horse judging contests. Maybe that's just us.

                              A thought: studying horse bowl or horse judging may be easier for these Covid times than having in-person meetings with horses.

                              We went to seven years of the state Roundup in different projects, from dance to horse stuff to photography and wildlife. This was particularly good for our kids, who are rural and mostly economically disadvantaged and majority Hispanic. Fundraising was a big deal - we earned every penny. We wanted to show the kids that the larger world is meant for them too and we dragged them all over the western half of the state. You've never seen politer, more well-behaved kids when we traveled. They knew it was their money that paid for our dinners at Red Lobster, which they thought was the fanciest place on earth, and their money that paid for the slightly nicer hotel with the INDOOR pool in February. They took tremendous pride in being from a poor, underserved, low-population county and competing, and winning, against much larger, well-funded county 4-Hs that ran like machines.

                              All that is to say, in a long-winded way, I'm really a 4-H advocate. 4-H teaches kids to work with each other, work for what they want, to shake hands with a stranger and - in horse judging at least - formulate an opinion and defend it. Pretty cool.


                                I was in 4-H for 10 years, in my area, 4-H is HUGE. Our county club has 200 kids who enroll about 400 horses.

                                it is all administered through the county extension office, and administered on the state level by Purdue University. Purdue establishes the rules and the curriculum. The local club has some leeway on what is required for annual completion. But, they can’t override certain guidelines Purdue has in place - for example, the club must offer a way for kids without a horse to “complete” the year - which generally means a poster or an essay. 99% of the kids have an animal by lease or ownership and show at the county fair. We have everything from 30K “made” horses to $300 auction rescues competing.

                                I’d check with whomever administers 4-H at the state level - you may find it to be turn-key or quite onerous.

                                I can say my 4-H experience was the highlight of my life growing up - and 25 years later, completing 10 years (the maximum of the program) is considered quite an accomplishment.


                                  In a midwestern rural area as well and did 4H until I was 18. As an adult in my 40's I helped with some clubs, then started one of my own out of my barn with just a half dozen kids. We had a blast, but trying to wrestle the control from other adults and put it into the hands of the kids (while overseen by the adults) was a struggle. We finally got my two oldest kids - HS seniors - on the board of the local council and they learned so much about management and structure! But it didn't last long. I'm so sad the local 4H has turned into a place for adults to show off their kids, not to let their kids learn to ride, and manage, and grow in a safe environment.


                                    Original Poster

                                    Thank you everyone for your excellent points to consider!
                                    poltroon - great idea to ask whether English tack would be acceptable for speed events (you're right it might just not be in the local rules because no one as asked so far). (ps: I can well imagine that a dressage show would feel quiet and mellow to any young horse after attending 4-H gaming events! ).
                                    rockymouse - yes, you're definitely right than Horsebowl would be safer in these COVID times - and easier to organize over Zoom over the Winter.
                                    And Michigan posters, I am jealous reading about your huge clubs! I was reading the Michigan rulebook the other night and I was impressed about the variety of events offers (jumping classes, distance-riding, etc). You guys are lucky! (and good point also about how to best encourage kids to lead amongst all the parents' politics).
                                    Thank you again everyone!


                                      The nice thing about horsebowl in these COVID times is that you might not be restricted to just local clubs. You could make connections anywhere! Now I'm curious if anyone has done that and how they set it up, because I bet my poultry kids would enjoy that too.
                                      If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                                        Original Poster

                                        I do like the idea of reaching further outside of our local area with Horsebowl. I need to investigate! (ps: good luck with the poulty poltroon !)