TALES FROM THE TRAILS
4-H is a great organization — just ask any members or leaders of Heavenly Horses, based in Loxahatchee. A relatively new group, it split off from the larger West Pines 4-H Club.
“West Pines 4-H is a terrific group,” Heavenly Horses leader Katie Wagner said. “I was with them for about 20 years, and a leader for the past eight. But it got pretty big, with about 24 members, so we decided to start a new, smaller club. We currently have about 12 members.”
Wagner pointed out that although their group does focus on equestrian interests, 4-H offers projects for boys and girls ages 5-18 in all sorts of fields, including dogs, poultry, rabbits, cattle, sewing, cooking and robotics. “Basically, if you’re interested in doing something or learning more about it, there’s a 4-H group and project for you,” she said.
I met up with Wagner and some of the club members at her house in The Acreage on Saturday, June 11. They were having a yard sale as a fundraiser for club members planning to attend the 4-H state horse show in Tampa set for July 5-10.
“We have five members who qualified this year — Hannah Alker, Kalyn MacGibbon, Melissa Rooney, Leah Lobeck and Lily Gumbinner,” Wagner said. “Each kid needs about $1,000 to attend, and if they qualify to go on for regionals in Perry, Ga., they’ll need another $1,200.”
Everyone donated stuff for the sale, and business was brisk.
“I love watching the kids grow as they progress through various programs,” Wagner said. “In our group, we give all of our members a strong grounding in overall horse care and showmanship. It’s not just about riding. I get excited as they accomplish goals and then set new ones.”
Wagner grew up riding with 4-H when she was a youngster in New York. She moved to South Florida in 2003 and met her husband, Jon, through horses. He was also involved in 4-H, through a group run by his parents. Now their daughter, Makayla, 6, is a member, making them a three-generation 4-H family. Wagner owns and runs Eden’s Edge Show Stables, and many of the members who don’t own their own horses ride there.
Lily Gumbinner, 13, joined the West Pines 4-H four years ago, then came along when the new group formed. She doesn’t own a horse and joined to gain experience. She currently rides Madam, a Welsh pony.
“I really love her,” she said. “She’s got a big heart and loves to jump and is very honest. I love riding, but I also like getting to know the other people in the group. When we go to shows, everyone helps everyone else. We all have a good time together. I’ve definitely learned a lot about caring for horses and showmanship, teaching horses good ground manners.”
The program helps you bond with horses, Lily explained.
“I really enjoy going to shows. That’s where everything you’ve practiced comes together,” she said. “My goal is to be able to ride any horse well. When we go to state this year, I hope to qualify for regionals. Being in 4-H is a great way to meet amazing kids who have similar interests. It’s also good for helping you qualify for college scholarships.”
Kyla MacGibbon, 12, was also helping at the yard sale. She has been in 4-H for four years.
“I’ve learned a lot about riding and caring for horses,” she said. “Best of all, I get to spend quality time with friends and family. I like going to the meetings and sharing what we’re doing. My goal this year is to be able to ride different horses without getting nervous or stressed out. The gelding I ride, G2, has taught me a lot. If I make a mistake when we’re jumping, he helps me fix it. He’s a very friendly, patient horse.”
Candy Lobeck describes herself as an unofficial co-leader of the group. Her 11-year-old daughter, Leah, is a member. Candy grew up involved in and riding with a local 4-H group.
“I enjoyed helping out in the community and doing holiday food drives,” she said. “I’m glad that Leah is involved. From a parent’s perspective, 4-H teaches kids responsibility and dedication, and it keeps them too busy to get into trouble. There are tons of scholarship opportunities. I think any child, whatever their interests, would benefit from being a member.”
Leah said her mother inspired her to join. “She told me how good it was when she was in it,” Leah said. “I like that mom and I get to do fun things together. Riding with the group gives me confidence, not only when I’m jumping but also when I do other things which can be scary. My pony, Cody, has an attitude. I love to jump, but he doesn’t. He kind of picks and chooses which fences he’ll do, and I fall off a lot. He likes doing the fancy moves of dressage a lot better, so right now, we’re doing dressage, but personally, I don’t like it. But he does, so we do it. My goal is to fix his attitude so we can do other things. I think any kid would enjoy being in 4-H. It’s a lot of fun, and you learn all sorts of things.”
Heavenly Horses is still looking to raise the money needed for the state and regional competitions. If you’d like to donate or sponsor an individual or the team, call Katie Wagner at (561) 951-2075, or visit www.pbcgov.com/coextension/4H.