Over 115 years ago A. B. Graham started a youth program in Clark County, Ohio. The first club was called “The Tomato Club” or the “Corn Growing Club.” By 1912 the clubs were known as 4-H clubs but it would be another ten years before they would be tied with state Cooperative Extension offices. Today, nearly 6 million youth participate in 4-H activities worldwide.
It is difficult to determine exactly what impact Standardbreds have had on 4-H and vice versa but clearly there is a connection. Many youth have their first interaction with Standardbreds through a 4-H sponsored trip to a local track. Once at the track they enjoy special behind-the-scenes tours where they meet trainers, grooms, farriers, and other racetrack personnel. Some racetracks also offer the opportunity to take a jog around the track with an experienced race horse and driver. In Alberta, Canada they’re taking it one step further.
It all starts in October when the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association (ASHA) and Century Downs Racetrack & Casino hosts a 4-H Track Day where participants not only met the horsemen and their equine athletes but are also introduced to the 4-H Standardbred Yearling project. This program creates a contract between the youths and participating Standardbred breeders which allows the youths access to a Standardbred weanling for the course of a year. Over Christmas break the foals and youths are introduced, from there ASHA holds clinics to aid them with the handling, feeding, care, progress, and training of their weanling in preparation of the ASHA Yearling Sale. Regular visits to the farms by both the breeder and the program coordinators assure questions are answered and any issues resolved. The program is a win-win for all involved – the yearling
receives extra attention, the youth has the opportunity to work with an untrained young horse and the owners have young stock that is ready to be presented at the ASHA Yearling Sale.
Across the border in New York, the Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund sponsors a Standardbred Management Camp for youth at Camp Wyomoco in Varysburg, New York. The 4-H Standardbred Camp is a one-week program for teenagers interested in learning about Standardbred horses and harness racing. Nearby Franklin County 4-H also sponsors a horse camp. Campers are treated to a special tour of the race horse barns which concludes with special training races. Sponsored by the New York Agricultural and Horse Breeding Development Fund, the winners of each race were presented with a special blanket.
In New Jersey, Terry Keynton and Suzanne D’Ambrose are Standardbred enthusiasts who are “hands on” with 4-H. Terry is a leader and Suzanne is a volunteer with Knight Riders 4-H club. Among their activities is the Standardbred Showcase; Terry and Suzanne do a demo with their pleasure Standardbreds Osborne’s Shy Cam and Independent Act before answering questions.
The payoff for contributing to youth education through 4-H is often in smiles. The long term payoff to the horse industry, and to Standardbreds, can be priceless. As you read through this edition you’ll meet a variety of Standardbred Stars – youths and their horses who are gaining experience as well as adults who have transformed their experience into a lifelong love.
Joshua Gale and GW Magic Fire
Twenty-four years ago this pair started their show career. Together with Earthly Delights (dam), they were reserve champion mare and foal at the NJ State 4-H Horseshow.
GW Magic Fire went on to race as a 3 year old but then retired at 5. Joshua was asked to join the young drivers program at Gladstone. With the help of a driving mentor, Josh and his mare were able to successfully compete in a combined driving event just two months after her last race. They also competed in driving classes on the 4-H county level to qualify for the NJ State Championship. They brought home reserve champion in pleasure and champion in reinsmanship and cones. The two of them ruled cones in 4-H…never beaten and never a cone down.
The pair are still together, after twenty-four years, riding and driving together.