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Area girls win 4-H competitions

n most horse competitions, riders are judged on posture, attire, control and knowledge of the horse. In an interesting twist, Kathryn Christensen of Mount Si High School won fourth place in the 4-H Equine Judging competition at the Puyallup Fair for her ability to judge horses.

"It's like a small horse show," said Julie Christensen, Kathryn's mother and 4-H leader. "There's a professional judge there placing competitors. All the kids also pretend they're the judge and place competitors. Then they're scored on how they compare to the judges' scoring."

Equine judging requires competitors to know all about the riding competition and what professional judges are looking for. To know this, competitors take classes on English and western riding and compete in halter competitions where they learn the body types, or confirmation, of horse breeds and compare the strong and weak points of various types of horses.

In addition, the 4-H competitors go to horse shows and judge riding skills and showmanship, where the handler is on the ground with the horse. They also judge pleasure riding, rating how pleasurable the ride appears, how well the horse responds and how relaxed the horse is. As they watch for different elements, the 4-H members talk about what the judges are looking for. Horse manuals help, too.

"You watch how well the horse responds and is trained to do different maneuvers," said Kathryn.

At age 17 and in her eighth year of the Snoqualmie Valley's Mounted Magic 4-H group, Kathryn was one of 89 youths in her age division at the fair. The competitors all watched half a day of the horse riding competition and scored each ride. Then they went before a professional judge to give oral reasoning for their decisions - from memory.

"It's a real nerve-wracking part of the competition," Julie said.

But it's important. It lets the 4-H members learn about public presentation; how to prepare themselves and how to professionally present themselves to an adult to be scored.

"They do this in every area of 4-H," Julie said. "Every animal has its own judging contest. When you compete, you have to know all the rules and what you're being judged on."

During her time in 4-H, Kathryn has shown two horses and participated in "Education Day," an all-day event focused on educating youth about various aspects of horses and horse care that aren't seen at the fair, said Julie. She has also participated in "Horse Ecology," a day with events involving the study of horses in their natural environment with regards to their habitat, diet, social interactions, awareness and behavior, and was a member of the King County Horse Bowl team, a knowledge bowl with horse questions and prepared presentations on chosen topics that takes place every year. She's taken her presentations to state competitions for the past three years.

Kathryn prepared throughout the year for this season's competition by judging contests and attending classes. In addition, she had to compete in at least two county-level competitions. To qualify for the state competition, her top two scores were taken from her county competitions, combined and compared against those of other contenders. Her scores had to be among the top eight in the county to qualify for the state-level contest. She qualified.

Having won fourth place at the Puyallup Fair, Kathryn gets to represent Washington state at the national competition in Louisville, Ky., at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds Exposition Center Nov. 3-5. She said she still has a little bit of work to do first. She'll take a few more classes, put more focus on the halter competition and look over a few more horse breeds, she said.

"We're going to meet a few times to review and plan and get ready for it," Kathryn said. "It's going to be the same setup as judging here would be."

In addition to equine judging, the national competition will include hippology - or the study of horses - along with a written exam and team scenario involving judging and identifying items that relate to horses; a horse knowledge bowl; and a public equine presentation.

North Bend's Emily Woolley, 16, from the Mounted Mischief group based in Federal Way, is also competing in the national competition in Equine Public Presentation. In this elite level of 4-H public speaking, Woolley will be participating in one of three divisions of public speaking that involves a team presentation using two people with props, individual presentation with one person with props and public speaking in which one person writes a persuasive speech without props. Speeches must last seven to 10 minutes. Contestants must be at least 14, in high school, have a good understanding of their topic and choose a topic relating directly to the equine industry.

Woolley's speech, "Sound Not Sore," is about the practice of "soring" in the equine business. Soring is the practice of harming a horse's legs or hooves, mechanically or chemically, to make the horse lift its legs higher and, supposedly, enhance its gait, Emily said.

Woolley, a member of 4-H for four years, won at the county level because no one else competed, said her mother Cathi Woolley. That allowed her to take part in the competition at the Puyallup Fair, which she also won, and qualified her for the national competition.

Part of both girls' preparations for the national competition include fundraising. Even though neither girl has to transport a horse, the trip will still be expensive.

"Sadly, our state doesn't help," said Julie. But that's not stopping them. "We're just so proud of our girls here in the Valley. I think this is the first time that anybody here has won at state level."

Although the state doesn't help, the King County 4-H Horse Leaders' Group has given each girl $500 to help cover travel costs.

For those interested in joining 4-H, contact Julie Christensen at (425) 417-3075.

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