You Don’t Need a Horse to Participate in a 4-H Horse Club!

A 4-H member arranges a model horse for competing in the State 4-H Model Horse show. Photo by Lillian Shupes

While the 4-H program was born over 110 years ago in the United States with a focus on corn, cooking and cows, this non-formal educational program for youth has evolved in many ways to meet the needs of more suburban states like New Jersey. For example, you can be a member of a 4-H horse club without ever owning a horse, riding a horse or ever coming into direct contact with one!

Approximately 1,600 youth belong to the 4-H horse program in New Jersey and only about a third of those own their own horse while another third have access to an animal by borrowing or leasing a horse from someone else. For the remaining third with no access to a horse, these youth join New Jersey 4-H, which is administered by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, to learn about the equine animal they love. They learn about breeds of horses, the anatomy and physiology of the horse, the nutritional needs, styles of riding and equipment, as well as facts about reproduction and the equine industry as a whole.

4-H horse project members have a wide range of opportunities to be involved in the 4-H program without having access to a live animal.

Hunterdon County Horse Bowl team getting ready to compete in the 2010 contest. Photo by Lillian Shupes.

The State 4-H Equine Art contest is an event in which horse lovers can display their artwork, photographs and any type of handiwork they may have created related to horses.

On a more academic level, 4-H youth may participate in the county and state 4-H Horse Bowl competitions in which they utilize a quiz board to buzz-in and answer horse-related questions. 4-H members interested in judging can compete in the Horse Judging competition. Those interested in all aspects of the horse can compete in the Hippology contest answering questions in slides, team problems and “skillathon” type stations. Equine presentations is a competition where 4-H youth can use their equine knowledge to research a subject and present a speech, team or individual presentation on any topic related to horses.

Older youth, grade 9 to one year out of high school, can compete in state competitions. Top contest winners practice with a state coach for months leading up to the Eastern National 4-H Round-up held in Louisville, KY, to compete in the National 4-H Equine Presentations, Hippology, Horse Judging and Horse Bowl competitions. New Jersey sends teams to this national competition each November.

The 4-H Horse Judging competition is an opportunity for 4-H youth to be exposed to horses, whether or not they own one. Photo by Lillian Shupes.

Are Horseless Horse Clubs new to 4-H? In answer, Somerset County 4-H Agent Carol Ward says, “It has never been a requirement that kids own a horse and there have always been “horseless” members of horse clubs as long as I have been here, and I am going on 28 years of service.”

Cape May County is starting a brand new Horseless Horse Club in New Jersey. 4-H young alumni and club leaders Amanda and Melissa Burnell welcome youth who love horses but don’t have their own to ride to join their “horseless” horse Leather & Lace 4-H Club. Leather & Lace meets on the 2nd & 4th Sunday of each month at 3 p.m. at the Lockwood 4-H Youth Center on the Cape May 4-H Fairgrounds. While club members will have some access to horses, there will be no riding. Emphasis will be placed on discovering the wonderful world of horses. The club is open to youth from grades 4 through through one year out of high school. For more information about the new Cape May County 4-H club, call 609-465-5115, ext. 605, or email