I had never believed myself to be intelligent, or even remotely intellectual. So when my name was called to receive my ribbon for fifth place in the New York State 4-H Horse Judging championship, my first thought was there had been a mistake. Each year, the top six individuals all receive the chance to go to the 4-H Eastern Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. I received all the papers and information, earned a jacket with my name on it and was shipped to Kentucky in November 2007 to represent New York State.
As I entered the coach bus and settled into my seat, I was breathless with excitement. My friend, David Sookey, put his arm around me and told me, “You’ll be fine.” Nodding my head, I started to breathe again. After several stops to pick up other team members, all the contestants from New York State were on the bus and introductions began. Jean Griffiths was in charge of the trip. I love this woman to death; she is always cheerful and smiling. However, she said something I will never forget, “The kids who get on this bus aren’t the same as those who walk off.” After 14 hours of getting to know each other, talking and playing games, the bus arrived in Kentucky, and we were dropped off at our hotel across from the Exposition Building where the competition is held. I was breathless again. The rest of the day was spent unpacking and we went to dinner. I set myself with David and my Horse Judging leader and close friend, April Winslow. Friday was set aside to visit Kentucky Horse Park and Church Hill Downs. Kentucky Horse Park was bigger than I imagined. I learned about the history of the horse and how much they served men in war or on the farm and even as a food supply. Down one brick path was Man-O-War’s measured stride; it took me six normal steps to cover one stride! Walking through the museum felt to me what walking through a candy store would be like for a toddler. I was amazed. Nevertheless, Church Hill Downs was my favorite. As soon as I walked into the sitting area to watch the races, I could feel the history. The horses on the track showed so much power as they stretched their legs down the straight away; their jockey pushing them to the maximum. But we left all too soon, and it was time to study for the competition. April helped my team review the horse’s conformation, structure and muscling. We practiced giving reasons for placing our class, and then shared stories until it was time for lights out.
I woke with a start the next morning; my team mates, Caitlyn, Kala and Chelsey, all shared the fear of what was to come in a few short hours. We got dressed, met the other teens and headed to the Expo Center. Throughout the competition, I kept repeating to myself what April had told me, “No guts; no glory.” My best friend, Laura Janson, had said those words during her first horse judging competition. I kept wishing she could be there, but she had died in a car accident several months earlier. I felt alone; however, I made it through the competition in one piece. Although our team didn’t place, I still came home with more knowledge than when I left for Kentucky. I had new friends and knew that I was smarter than I had first believed. Jeanne was right, I walked off that bus a different person than when I got on.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.