County youth learn about horses through 4-H

Some children in Franklin County 4-H this summer are having fun while gaining hands-on knowledge about horses. Several students are taking part in a 4-H Horse Club.

At a meeting at the Canteen in Russellville earlier this month, participants learned about the parts of a Western saddle, colored a practice sheet to work on recalling the parts of a horse and then played a game to reinforce their learning. They learned about, and got to practice, how to clean both English and Western saddles.

At a prior meeting, they learned about English saddle parts.

For 11-year-old Addy Ruiz, who is also taking riding lessons, it was her first 4-H club meeting.

“It was really fun,” said Ruiz. “I got to clean up all of the tack. I love learning how to ride a horse.”

Learning about and riding horses is also a source of joy for 15-year-old Jonathan Miller.

“I love horse club because of the knowledge, skill and friendships we earn during each and every meeting,” Miller said. “I like that it’s hands-on. That makes it a lot more interesting to me. We learn about horses, parts and care of saddles and tack, horse first aid and anatomy and, of course, riding horses.”

July 15, several of the students took part in an equine field day, held at Rise Again Riding School in Phil Campbell and taught by owner-instructor Jam TePoel Saarinen.

“Horses are really calming,” explained TePoel Saarinen. “They’re relaxing, and they have a healing touch for people.

“I think it’s important for kids to learn about the care of horses and tack and equipment,” she added. “They had a lot of fun doing the tack identification game and other activities.”

Two of her horses – Skoolboy, a chestnut thoroughbred Dutch warm blood, and Pepper, a 21-year-old Pony of America – featured in demonstrations for the students.

TePoel Saarinen said participants learned about horse vital signs – “temperature, pulse, respiratory rate and capillary refill time. We discussed normal ranges. The kids also got to listen to a horse’s heart and get the respiratory rate.”

One of her students, 22-year-old Morgan Russ, helped with the day’s activities. “I like working with horses,” Russ said. “It’s very calming and relaxing. Being around horses helps you learn the value of hard work and patience.”

Crimson Risley, 11, was among participants, and said he especially enjoys when he gets an opportunity to ride horses. His 14-year-old sister, Gracie, also enjoys horses. “They’re cool. They’re smart. It’s easy to make friends with horses if you’re nice to them.”

Franklin County 4-H agent Austin Blankenship expressed his appreciation to TePoel Saarinen for volunteering her time to help Franklin County youth learn about horses and have these experiences.

“She’s very interactive with the kids. Having resource volunteers to help us with programming is always needed,” Blankenship said. “Without her, this would just not be an opportunity we could provide them, and that provides a big benefit for them. It’s something we’re happy they have the chance to learn and do.”