Tom Gwin likely has one of the most involved jobs as the manager of the 4-H competitions at the Washington State Fair. From Sept. 6-22, he helped to coordinate competitions for more than 2,000 4-H Club students in sixth through 12th grades across 11 animal species, the arts and home economics.
“What I’ve seen in the growth in these students is incredible,” Gwin said. “The personal growth is tremendous.”
Gwin started as the 4-H state fair competition manager in 2004. This was his 10th year at the helm.
There were 120 students from counties all across the state in the intermediate and senior age groups last Thursday morning, competing in the bareback equitation section. Bareback is a style of riding where the student rides on a horse without a saddle.
“(The students) are judged on how they ride, how they’re positioned on the horse, and how they respond to commands from the judge,” Gwin said.
Gwin said students in 4-H are divided among four different age groups. The two oldest – intermediate and senior — qualify to go to the state fair. They qualify at their respective county fairs and are selected to go to the state level.
“The kids are identified by the judges only by their number, so there is no bias,” Gwin said. “There are multiple people doing the judging.”
Gwin said bareback is an equitation class in the performance section of horse competitions. Three other sections are Western games, harness and dressage.
Gwin said the Washington State 4-H Fair began in Puyallup in 1969. The fair’s name change this year makes a lot of sense, he said.
“It really falls in with what we are already doing,” Gwin said. “Kids have always thought about it as the state fair because the (4-H) state competition events are held here.”
Rachel Poussier, a seventh-grader who attends the Carbonado School District in Pierce County, said she was excited to compete for the first time at the 4-H state fair. She competed with her horse, Whinny, a 7-year-old female Palomino quarter horse.
“I received a blue ribbon in showmanship, which is really hard to get,” Poussier said.
A blue ribbon shows the student has satisfied the minimum requirements in the competition of a particular section.
Poussier also received a blue ribbon following her presentation on White Line disease among horses in the public presentation category.
“I like how 4-H is educational, and I like riding a lot,” Poussier said.
Leann, Rachel’s mother, said she appreciates how 4-H prepares youth for life.
“My oldest daughter was in 4-H, and she speaks in front of people amazingly now,” Leann said. “(The program) teaches them independence and responsibility. They learn so much.”Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.