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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU 4-H Horse School teaches riding, animal care, much more

Seventy youth and 75 horses descended on Las Cruces this week for the annual New Mexico State University 4-H Horse School.


Boy on stationary bike, girl in front of it
Kayla Higgins of Valencia County drizzles paint on her T-shirt design while Santiago Casaus of Sandoval County pedals the stationary bicycle to create centrifugal force to spread the paint. The activity was part of the New Mexico State University 4-H Horse School. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Girl beside white horse.
Brooke Becker of Catron County combs her horse Silver after riding at the 4-H Horse School held at New Mexico State University June 3-6. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Man with beard looking at horse bridle
Riding instructor John Allen checks the bridle on a horse, prior to Theresa Cardiel of Otero County entering the riding ring at the New Mexico State University 4-H Horse School. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

This is the first time in the horse school’s 34 years of existence that it was held in Las Cruces. When the school began in 1985 it was held at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, then it moved to the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque.

“It’s great having the youth on campus,” said Craig Painter, NMSU’s 4-H state agriculture and natural resource agent and director of the school. “Besides improving their horsemanship skills they got to see the equine education program and horse farm that is here on campus.”

The school is three days of hands-on learning associated with caring for and riding a horse. From sunup to sundown the youth, ages 8 to 18, learn the biological science of the horse and hone their horsemanship skills.

“For about half of the youth, this is their first horse school,” Painter said.

“This is my first time,” said Addison Alguire of Catron County, who has been riding for only four months. “My older sister, Savanna Finley, told me about when she came and what I would learn.”

This is Brooke Becker of Catron County’s second time to attend the school, but the first time for her 3-year-old horse Silver, a cremello paint with white eyes.

“I like how they instruct you,” Becker said. “They are very patient and are able to get the point across clearly.”

Horsemanship is the communication between rider and the animal to where they become one with each other.

“We are teaching the youth how to communicate with their horse by using leg pressure, reining, weight placement in the saddle and their voice,” said John Allen, Socorro County agricultural agent and one of 10 instructors.

The youth’s riding skills are evaluated before they are grouped in three levels so instructors are able to address their abilities. With experience, they advance through the skill levels of the school.

“Each level is building on the basic skills they learned as beginners, by developing more technical maneuvers,” said Hannah Swarthout, NMSU equine instructor. “Ultimately, we want them to refine their skills to where the rider is invisible. Where it looks like the rider is just sitting on the horse, yet they are in control of the animal at all times.”

Five advanced 4-H riders participated in training a 2-year-old horse, which they purchased and broke for riding.

“They work with the horse each day so it can be shown in Western Pleasure,” said Joby Priest, NMSU Horse Farm manager and equine instructor. “They must do all of the training themselves.”

The five riders and their horses will participate in the State Fair 4-H Horse Show Futurity Division this September, and again in the three-year-old futurity in 2020.

There is more to owning a horse than just the fun of riding. The youth learn about horse nutrition, and selecting the proper tack for their horse and how to use it properly.

“This is my fourth year at horse school,” said Leslie Cheran of Sierra County, who has been riding for eight years. “I’ve learned a lot about horses by attending.”

Horse school is not just about riding, the youth also participated in educational workshops. They learned about large animal rescue techniques, and participated in a Horse Bowl quiz show game and public speaking to prepare for their district competition and the State 4-H Conference in July.

They also did a fun activity of decorating a T-shirt by spinning paint on the fabric with centrifugal force generated by pedaling a stationary bicycle.

In the evenings they were entertained by a trick roping demonstration, a tour of NMSU’s horse farm and a dance.

“I like coming to horse school because I get to meet other kids from around the state,” said Noelani Meador of San Juan County, who has attended the school four times. “At home there are only a few people who can teach you. Here there are a lot of people to learn from.”