Teaching teens to manage horse shows

Horse shows provide an avenue for leadership and life skill building.

Teens working at horse show
Teen leaders Bailey Miller and Bailey Curtis working in the horse show management office. Photo by Bob Miller.

As the heat of summer is in full swing, so is horse show season. Local 4-H clubs and county-based horse and pony boards are sponsoring shows for 4-H members to showcase their talent, skills and horses. Exhibitors have a chance to win ribbons, high point awards and develop lasting friendships. Beyond the show ring, 4-H horse shows are an excellent opportunity to develop leadership skills.

The opportunity for skill-building doesn’t end when exhibitors exit the arena, however, as youth participants can play an active role in planning and running the horse show. As we build today’s leaders to be responsible for our 4-H program in the future, giving them the experience to learn and practice show management as a teen is an important lesson for them to learn. As programs wrap up this year’s show season, begin developing the skill sets for teens to have an active role in next summer’s show season.

Working alongside an adult in a youth-adult partnership, teens can assist with the following roles:

  • Contacting the judge(s)
  • Marketing the show
  • Checking exhibitors in and out
  • Writing class sheets
  • Calculating high point
  • Handing out ribbons and awards
  • Setting up the show ring for different disciplines (gymkhana, dressage, trail, jumping, etc.)
  • Ring steward
  • Gate keeper
  • Announcer
  • Clean up/garbage detail

The key to developing leadership skills with teens in managing a horse show is a concept called youth-adult partnerships. Youth-adult partnerships is defined as a fostered relationship between youth and adults where both parties have equal potential in making decisions, utilizing skills, mutual learning and independently carrying out tasks to reach common goals. Having adults willing to work side by side with the teen so they can juggle showing as well as training the teens in advance helps them to be prepared and experience success. It is also crucial for trainings to occur to assure all parties involved are on the same page and aware of their roles and responsibilities. Setting teens up for success through training is the important part of having them serve in a leadership role at a horse show.

Michigan State University Extension’s leadership and civic engagement work team members can assist you with educational programs around youth and adult partnerships, how to set up programs for youth and adults to work together as well as teen leadership skill development programs. For more information, email 4-hleadership@anr.msu.edu. Consider developing a teen leadership program that involves youth assisting with managing horse shows in your county program.

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