It’s showtime at the county fair | VailDaily.com

It’s showtime at the county fair

Claire Esqwith

Ken LawdermilkJocelyn Irwin competes in the intermediate hunt-seat equitation during the Eagle County Fair 4-H English horse show.

Competitors trickled into the rodeo parking lot Sunday and prepared their horses for showtime.

Brushing manes, polishing hooves and preparing saddles – all the while talking to their equine companions about what was to come for the day.

Eagle County resident Kendra Parker, 12, has been riding horses her entire life, and in the mid-morning heat that settled over the Eagle County Fairgrounds, she bridled her friend and horse Gypsy.

Gypsy is a caramel-colored mare with white spots and flowing blond mane that seemed to love nothing more than to be groomed by his young owner.

Kendra Parker and Gypsy were some of the many competitors that rode in Sunday’s 4-H English horse show.

“My favorite thing about 4-H is just hanging out with my friends and having fun,” Parker said.

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At first glance, Parker seems quiet and shy – hardly the type to enjoy performing in front of an audience and being critiqued by a judge.

However, the minute she entered the arena, Parker exuded intense confidence, concentration and a competitive spirit.

Though she did not win the overall competition in her age group, Parker’s mild mannerisms transformed into wild determination as she most often finished in the top three and won two out of three jumping events.

All of those who competed in the third 4-H English horse show of the summer were very different.

Some are quiet and shy, some are rambunctious. Yet, once they enter the ring, a common bond of confidence and concentration took over.

“Mostly, I think the reward for these kids is coming out, being with each other, having fun and just seeing what they’ve accomplished with their horses,” said Parker’s mother Wendy Parker. “Everyone you’ll talk to is completely in love with what they are doing. There is not a child here that wishes they were somewhere else – they are really good kids.”

The 4-H is a nationwide program that allows children ages 8-18 to compete in events ranging from English and western horse shows to leather crafting, agriculture and livestock events, all of which will be present at the Eagle fair July 29.

Though English riding is open to males and females, the event generally is dominated by females at the 4-H level, and Sunday’s competition was solely between girls ages 11-15.

Jocelyn Irwin won the overall intermediate age-group competition, and Haley Didier won the senior age-group competition against her only competitor and best friend, Lakotah Doig.

“I’m really proud of my horse,” said Doig. “He has come such a long way in competition.”

The two girls smiled and laughed while receiving their ribbons, which lent to the supportive and friendly air of competition.

“These kids take it very seriously, but they are all friends,” said Eagle County 4-H coordinator Jenny Wood. “4-H teaches kids a lot of responsibility and character – I love working with them.”

Wood said that as compared to other horse shows, the 4-H puts most of the training responsibility in the kids’ hands, without the help of expensive, professional trainers.

The 4-H program has been in existence for more than 100 years and has been present in Eagle since the first ranchers and farmers migrated to the area.

Though Western riding has been a part of the program longer than its English counter-part, the English riding competition consists of a wide range of events that showcase the competitors’ abilities to give and obey

commands, follow complicated jumping patterns, as well as a written exam that tests the riders’ knowledge of horse management.

Parker said she was more nervous to take the exam behind closed doors than to perform in arena.

She also said that while she enjoys English- and western-riding styles, which differ in equipment and tactic, her favorite event is horse jumping.

Wendy Parker said the competitions are family-driven, which was apparent by the presence of Kendra Parker’s grandparents and cousins who are visiting from California and were the loudest cheerleaders in the bleachers.

“Kendra is fabulous,” said her 12-year-old cousin Tobin Dougherdy. “I can’t wait to learn to ride and feel free on a horse.”

Dougherdy eagerly watched his cousin compete and awaited her to give him a riding lesson after the competition.

After Parker won the last jumping event, in which the height of jumps are raised higher and higher until only one rider is left standing, she flashed a huge smile and awarded her first victory hug to her horse.

The victors and runners-up of the competition adorned themselves with their brightly colored ribbons and left the arena not as competitors but as closer friends.