4-H Horse Share Program seeks horses

The program connects horse owners with youth eager to learn how to ride. And to meet the needs of students, the program is in need of more horses or ponies. 

By Connor Hopkins and Ian Wreisner

The 4-H Horse Share Program, a volunteer program run by the Winneshiek County 4-H, is seeking help from the community. The program connects horse owners with youth eager to learn how to ride. And to meet the needs of students, the program is in need of more horses or ponies. 
Winneshiek County 4-H Horse Superintendent Jeanett Hansen shared the unfortunate circumstances that lead to the program’s need for horses.
“The last year was a terrible year,” Hansen said. “Five horses have passed away since last July. It’s nothing to do with owners. With the change of the weather in December there was colic, there was founder. It was out of our hands. Now we’re looking for the public to step forward and share.”
The Horse Share Program gives 4-H and FFA youth without access to a horse a unique chance to get to know the animal. Students learn to unload the horse from a trailer, tie and lead, feed and groom them. Of course, riding is also on the lesson plan. The group meets twice a week at the Winneshiek County Fairgrounds starting in June.
The program has grown since its inception in 2013, leading to more students and the need for more horses. The process isn’t as simple as bringing a horse down to the fairgrounds, though. Before a horse joins the program, Hansen accompanies each youth to their first meeting with the horse and makes sure the pair is a good fit. Cooperation between the youth, animal and owner is essential. But that doesn’t mean non-owners can’t find ways to help, too.
To be able to physically bring the animal down to the fairgrounds for up to three hours at a time, that’s a commitment on the owner’s part,” Hansen said. “If somebody has a truck and a trailer, and a neighbor has some horses, maybe they would want to volunteer some time to help bring some horses down.”
The volunteers in the Horse Share Program offer more than just an opportunity to learn to ride. The time spent working with the animals is time spent as an escape for some members, and an eye-opening leadership experience for others. Hansen has seen the support the group brings as the most valuable aspect the program provides.
“It’s not about the horse show, it’s not about the fair,” Hansen said. “There are some kids that come from troubled families or who are very shy. When they come down to the fairgrounds, we’re all kind of like a big family. You have the whole support of all the families that are there.”
The Horse Share Program provides knowledge that lasts well past the last time the student saddles their borrowed horse. In her time as Horse Superintendent, Hansen has seen the impact that the mentorship opportunities had on older students and the connection with the horses direct their career paths.
“In my 10 years of doing this, a lot of these youth when they grow up, some come back and want to volunteer,” Hansen said. “I find they like to stay involved with horses, and want to work with kids, and they’re becoming teachers. And they still give free hugs. It must mean things are going right.”
Owners interested in sharing their horses can contact the Winneshiek County Extension & Outreach Office at 563-382-2949, or email County Youth Coordinator Ashley Horgen at ashleys1@iastate.edu. 


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