Competitors in the 4-H Horse and Pony who take on the “contesting” event know it’s all about overcoming obstacles — as quickly as possible.
They competed in barrels, pole bending, flag and keyhole courses, which all involved horse and rider weaving through a maze of patterns on a dirt track Monday.
The horse and rider that complete the courses the quickest are the winners.
The 4-H riders involved in the contesting events are usually horse lovers — they’ve spent countless hours getting to know their horse and working on technique, Tyffani Artis, who manages the fair horse arena, said.
“If you’re out there every day with your horse, no matter what you’re doing, it’s going to get better,” she said. “Even if it’s just a few minutes a day going out and spending time riding them, brushing them, whatever, they’re going to be more responsive to you and just perform better.”
The competitors range in age from third grade to 18 years old.
Their horses also range in age and experience, and are trained for many types of events, Artis said.
Most of the riders are training for fair contesting events all year long.
Then they’ll compete in different events throughout the Bartholomew County area, said horse owner and trainer Dena Hasler.
Hasler is the owner of The Woods horse training camp and barn just outside of Hope, at 6680 E. County Road 450N. She competed when she was a 4-H’er and has since passed all of her contesting knowledge on to her two daughters, Grace and Mel.
“They win some, they lose some; they learn about sportsmanship,” she said. “I think it’s so much more than just what the actual activity is. It’s a character builder.”
Hasler said there’s a group of about 17 riders who come from her barn and compete at the fair every year. This year, seven of them were in the contesting event.
Grace Hasler, 15, said while she loves the feeling of riding a horse, because the work that goes into being able to ride a horse can be grueling.
“Anybody can just go out and run a horse, but it takes a lot more to be on a pleasure horse and understand everything,” Grace said. “If you’re going to run really well, you have to understand everything.”
Grace said she rides her horse every day for about an hour to maintain and practice all of the techniques and exercises they’ve learned together.
Most riders and trainers will have to teach a horse how to ride with someone, how to move off of the rider’s legs and how to respond to the rider’s hands. They then teach the horse how to put everything together and run, Grace said.
Most horses aren’t ready to ride until they’re about 4 years old and won’t be competitive until they’re about 10 years old, Grace said.
Columbus East High School senior Jennifer Scheidt has been riding horses since she was 5 years old and started riding in contesting events when she started in 4-H. She said the rush she gets from riding her horse is why she has put in countless hours of training most of her life.
“I like the adrenaline rush, and I just love the riding in general. I like going fast,” she said. “It’s you and your horse, and you’re getting ready to go. You’re working as a team.”