Summer Horsemanship School Program entering 40th year of training young horse riders

By Courtney CoufalSummer Horsemanship School Program instructors

Helen Hardy still remembers how proud she felt the first time she executed a flying lead change. She was in high school and participating in a horsemanship clinic as a member of the Williamson County 4-H Hoofpicks Club in Georgetown, Texas.

Now a sophomore animal science student at Texas A&M University, Hardy has a chance to pass that same feeling of accomplishment on to other participants as an instructor of the very program that taught her so much as a 4-Her.

The Summer Horsemanship School Program offered by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service trains young people like Hardy as well as parents and youth leaders in county 4-H clubs across Texas. The program provides education on horse safety, general riding practices, equipment and problem solving, and to improve overall confidence and ability when working with horses.

Teri Antilley, Extension horse program specialist in the Department of Animal Science, runs the Summer Horsemanship School Program, and says in addition to providing a structured horsemanship education, the program offers much more.

“The horsemanship clinics support volunteer leaders and help to strengthen the educational value of 4-H clubs. We are there to provide a foundation for their county programs,” Antilley said.

Summer Horsemanship School Program“Our instructors are there to show the participants the skills they need, how to do them and how to practice, so after they leave, the youth leaders can continue to build on this training.”

This year, 18 counties from as far away as Hansford County on the Texas-Oklahoma state line have requested horsemanship clinics. The counties select either a 2- or 3-day clinic and then organize the venue and registration of the participants. Participants work for eight hours a day and cover specific topics such as safety, types of reins, horse theft awareness and bits, stopping and backing, rollbacks and turnarounds, gaits and leads, speed control, simple lead changes and flying lead changes, showmanship and ground safety.

The clinics are taught by college-aged students who have been trained to teach the maneuvers and skills. Students interested in becoming Extension Horse Program Assistants train with Antilley and start basic maneuver training in January and practice until tryouts in March. After the instructors are selected, a more comprehensive training continues through May to finalize teaching methodology and standardize the lesson-plan approach to be used across the state. The instructors then travel in pairs teaching the clinics during June.

“In the second half of training, we concentrate on mastery of advanced horsemanship skills for demonstration purposes as well as improving public speaking, analytical evaluation of situations and problem solving and information communication with leaders, parents and youth,” Antilley said.

In addition to Hardy, instructors for this year are animal science majors Courtney Phillips, a junior from San Antonio; Caitlin Noble, a junior from McKinney; Hannah Neuenschwander, a sophomore from Boerne;  Ashley Heinen, a freshman from Medina; and kinesiology major Amy Peterson, a sophomore from Sugar Land.

As someone who’s participated in the clinic herself, Hardy is looking forward to being an instructor this summer.

Summer Horsemanship School Program“What I learned at this clinic in high school did not stop the day the instructors left. I continue to use their methods, to this day, in training my own horses. No matter what type of horse you have or what discipline you ride, you will take away from this clinic something that can be applied to benefit your specific needs,” Hardy said. “I am very excited to give back to this program because I took away so much from it. It made me a more confident rider and gave me the foundation to train my own horses. I really wish to give to each kid I instruct the experience that was given to me.”

Over the past 39 years, the Summer Horsemanship School Program has trained 45,560 youth, parents and volunteer leaders in 1,327 different clinics, and 230 college students have served as instructors. Entering the 40th year this summer, Antilley is excited about the progress the program has made and the current strength of the program.

“This is a great program that makes a difference. It’s especially rewarding to see kids you taught in the clinics at the State 4-H Show and to see how much they’ve improved,” Antilley said. “From year to year, most of the 4-Hers who attend say they ride with more confidence, can perform advanced maneuvers, make better and quicker decisions and enjoy their horse more, and that is what this program is all about.”

For more information on the Summer Horsemanship School Program or to plan a clinic in your local county next year, go to https://animalscience.tamu.edu/academics/equine/summer-horsemanship/index.htm.

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For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at cacoufal@tamu.edu or (979) 845-1542.

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