RACHEL — There was no horse game for the Marion County Future Farmers of America at a recent national competition — they were there to win it.
Three students and a graduate from Marion County traveled to Indianapolis the last week of October to compete in the FFA National Horse Judging Competition, the first time since 2006 that a Marion County equine team was represented at the event on the national scene.
Junior Abby Getz, sophomore Brenden Payton, sophomore Brooke Toothman and 2022 graduate Hayley Ford – who was a senior when the team qualified for nationals – are the students who make up the equine judging team. of Marion County.
The group represented not just Marion County, but all of West Virginia in the horse judging category. The group received a silver medal in horse judging, Payton and Ford received silver medals in individual performance, and Getz and Toothman received bronze.
“The atmosphere was just phenomenal. There are so many great kids and people in this organization that welcome everyone,” Payton said. “It was such a warm environment and I don’t think anyone has been left out.”
Horse judging is one of the most technical competitions. Groups are tasked with observing eight horses, each with their own class and category. The group must judge the horse in each class alongside professional horse judges, take detailed notes and explain each class.
Then, four of the eight horses are chosen as “reason classes”, where groups must stand in front of the judges and give a verbal, detailed explanation of their rationale during judging.
The judgments of the student are compared to those of the professionals and the scores are counted from there.
The Marion County team was one of 18 teams to earn a silver emblem, placing them among an elite group of kids.
“It was really nerve-wracking to go out there and see all these kids who were so nervous,” Toothman said. “But it was such a fun experience, I really enjoyed myself. It was no small feat that we got it so far and we are really proud of ourselves.
Getz said she attended the West Virginia State FFA convention a few times, but it didn’t quite live up to the excitement of the national competition.
“I think the environment there is so welcoming and we’ve met so many people there. It’s really easy to talk to someone and become friends because everyone is there for the same reason. “said Getz.
Horse judging is one of the most technical competitions at the convention, but much of its difficulty comes from the preparation.
In order to compete better, students must understand and conceptualize the “ideal” horse for specific purposes and have a deep enough understanding of this information to apply it on the fly and recognize a horse’s shortcomings in competition.
The program is what is called a career development event and serves to interest children in careers “in equine science, breeding, care and welfare, management and production through the program of agricultural education”, according to the FFA.
“Horse assessment participants will identify horse breeds and brands, equipment and leg deviations; evaluate horse classes based on breed characteristics, conformation and performance; give oral reasons for their rankings; and answer questions and present solutions as a team based on equine industry scenarios,” the FFA website states.
But it’s one thing for a student to have this in mind, it’s another to be able to give a detailed articulation of this process to a panel of judges in a high-pressure environment.
That gives Marion County FFA Instructor John Postlethwait something to be proud of.
“I’ve had most of these kids since their first year and they’ve grown a lot. Their knowledge continues to grow and that’s what these career development programs are all about,” Postlethwait said. “The score there is so tight there, usually the scores between first and tenth [place] is about 10 points. We have a storied past in this program and these children have done much to continue this rich tradition.