Vail Valley: Everything 4-H kids need to know in life, they learn from their horses |

Vail Valley: Everything 4-H kids need to know in life, they learn from their horses

Justin McCarty / jmccarty@vaildaily.comRiley Kromer runs his horse through a course during the Eagle County Fair 4-H Western Horse Show Monday in Eagle.

The best thing for the inside of a kid really is the outside of a horse.

Dozens of kids on dozens of horses cantered around the Eagle County Fair grounds’ arena during Monday’s Western Horse Show, looking for smatterings of applause and a little love from the judge.

In the stands and perched on fences, parents watched with pride as their daughters and sons rode. Horses are expensive and time consuming, and worth it, they all agreed.

“It teaches responsibility, that things need to be done properly,” said Kris Whittaker, one of the superintendents of Monday’s horse show. “You could take the horse away as the object, and they’d still understand that.”

Parents will tell you it costs $300 a month to board a horse and that it’s at least $100 every four to six weeks for horseshoes. They do not pay that much for their own shoes.

Horses can hurt themselves just by thinking negative thoughts. Horses are broken more often than Sandra Bullock’s heart. Veterinarians are wonderful, but not free.

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Then there’s the horse trailer and a truck to pull it, because no one actually lives at the fairgrounds, although it feels like it this week. They’re moving kids, horses, and thousands of dollars worth of tack – that’s the leather stuff like saddles and bridles you strap to a horse to ride it. If you ride Western and English, you need two types of tack, and often different horses specifically trained for each.

Bling is blingy, but it doesn’t really matter, at least not at this level, said Lindsey Berbee, the judge for Monday’s Western show. Show up, on time, clean and well prepared.

Berbee has been a judge since 2004 and competed for almost 20 years before that.

Everything matters, Berbee said – how contestants sit in the saddle and how tall, how youngsters communicate with their horses. In real life Berbee is a quality assurance engineer with Zoll, a medical software company in Broomfield, where details also matter.

Contestants start young and continue into their late teens. The older ones teach the younger ones, and so it goes.

Ella Guzik has been at this since she was 6 years old. She’s 17 and on the back end of her 4-H run. She bought her horse, Cash, with her own cash on her birthday seven years ago. She’s an Eagle Valley High School senior and headed to college and can’t take Cash. She’s about too old for 4-H, so she’ll sell him after the fair.

“It’ll break my heart,” she said.

• They learn that success follows work. It’s not easy and it’s not free, but it’s worth it. Sometimes it smells bad and your boots get dirty.

• They learn that training horses and kids is similar. You tell them and show them the same things over and over and over. It’s repetitious and tedious, but eventually their lights switch on and they get it – both the horses and the kids.

• They learn that the firm but gentle hand teaches best. Pound on a horse or a dog or a person, then order them to come to you and see how well it works out.

• They learn that the will to compete is nothing, but the will to prepare is everything. Horse show days start with the sun, and stretch days before that – as does every other 4-H event in this year’s Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.

• They learn that what they’re doing now sets them up for what they must do next, that you cannot do just one thing. Everything builds on everything else.

• They learn that horses are flesh and bone and brain just like them. And horses have their own ideas about how things should go. Horse and kid will come to a peaceful resolution, or nothing is accomplished.

• They learn that a little double stick carpet tape on the forehead keeps a contestant’s cowboy hat from flying off in the middle of an event.

• They learn that there really will be a quiz later. The 4-H horse show includes a written test covering horse knowledge.

• Above everything else they know this: The money, the work, the long hours all pay off. Horse parents love their kids, and their kids love their horses.

They’ll all be back.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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