OKEECHOBEE — The temperature in Perry, Ga., was close to 102 degrees when three Florida-plated vehicles, one towing a horse trailer, pulled into the Georgia National Fairgrounds Wednesday, July 28.
The following morning would usher in the first day of the 4-H Southern Regional Horse Championships, hosted by Florida 4-H and the University of Florida, and attended by 13 surrounding states.
Three of the 60 Florida exhibitors in the competitions were Okeechobee 4-H members Hunter Bryant16, Amylia Crisler, 16, and Sierra Coward, 17. All are part of the 4-H group, Show Stoppers — a club led by Okeechobee resident Suzanna Rucks.
Ms. Crisler, a first-year 4-H member, said: “Okeechobee has a lot of 4-H groups, and Show Stoppers is one of our groups that lets kids work with horses. In fact, when my mom and I were calling around to see which 4-H club I wanted to be a part of, Mrs. Rucks is the one who answered the phone. Her personality and knowledge of horses prompted me to become a part of Show Stoppers.”
On a weekly basis, these teenagers put in hours of riding, reining and training practice — working with their horses daily in order to understand more about the sport of horsemanship and their horse’s individual personality. Their dedication to hard work, receiving instruction and investing time in what they love to do helped them climb the ladder leading to regionals.
While Ms. Crisler and Mr. Bryant were instructed on horse handling and management by Mrs. Rucks leading up to the competition, Ms. Coward didn’t have a trainer this year. She relied on what others had invested in her during her younger years and personal experience from training other horses to achieve success in the competition.
“I don’t really have a trainer. Suzanna helps the best she can, and last year Renee Burks volunteered an hour a week to help me,” said Ms. Coward. “I’ve been training horses by myself since I was 12, and this year I’m riding ‘Jack.’ He’s a pretty good horse and knows how I expect him to perform in the ring.”
The Show Stoppers competed in a total of 10 classes — spread out over the extended three-day weekend. Most of these directly related to Western showmanship, reining and ranch riding.
Mr. Bryant, riding “Chex With Me,” won first place in Ranch Trail, a class of 64 competitors. He also took home the fourth place ribbon for Ranch Riding, a class with 88 competitors.
“Only one this year,” smiled Mr. Bryant, referring to the blue ribbon in his hand. “But, there will be more next year.”
Ms. Coward, riding Jack, took first place in Ranch Ground Handling, a class of 43. Ms. Crisler, riding “Twiggy,” also placed in the Ranch Ground Handling class, and took home the eighth-place ribbon.
The Show Stoppers would like to thank Kuda Boatworks for purchasing their team shirts for the competition; Okeechobee 4-H for sponsoring their trip; and, Florida 4-H and the University of Florida for hosting the championships.
Individually, Mr. Bryant, Ms. Crisler and Ms. Coward would all like to extend a warm thank you to friends, families and mentors for constantly supporting, encouraging and believing in them.
By Verónica Crisler
Special to the Okeechobee News
The Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.