A horse's mood plays a role in Rock County 4-H Fair Horse and Pony Show

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, July 9, 2017

EVANSVILLEJiggs was looking his best. 

A Western halter with silver medallions adorned his head. His coat shone, and his tail looked like it had been blow-dried at a high-end salon.

But he really didn't feel like walking sideways. Maybe later, but not now with the judge watching him.

Rock County 4-H'ers held their horse and pony show Saturday at the Mel and Kendra Shotliff farm outside Evansville. About 70 kids took part in categories such as English Showmanship, Best Groomed, Hunter Under Saddle, Western Pleasure and Trail.

The show has been held at the Shotliffs' farm for several years because of lack of space at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds in Janesville.

The show's different categories are designed to highlight the horses' appearance and abilities or the riders' abilities, explained Brenda Uhe, co-superintendent of the horse and pony project. 

For example, in Hunter Under Saddle, the judge looks at the way horses carry themselves, how they respond to commands and how consistent they are in the ring.

"I'm looking for a horse that's smooth and consistent," said judge Nell Tekampe. 

Each breed has a distinctive body type, so Tekampe looks for horses that match the breed standard. Horses also have different gaits.

A bad rider can make a good horse look worse, she said. But a good rider can't do much for a bad horse.

Other categories judge the riders, such as how they hold their hands or how they sit.

Then there's Trail, a category that's about the rider -- and what kind of mood the horse is in. 

A trail-riding field looks like an agility course. Horse and rider have to cross over white poles laid out in different patterns. They can take a certain number of steps between each one, depending on whether they are trotting or loping.

At one point, they have to stop, back up and turn. Then the rider has to open and shut a rope "gate" while the horse waits patiently in the proper spot.

The final obstacle is called the side pass, and it involves the horse sidestepping through two poles.

Opening and shutting the rope gate was one of the most challenging obstacles.

Jiggs didn't seem to want rider Isabel Inman to get close enough to the gate to close it. At one point, he took a moment to scratch the side of his face on the rope. It was unclear if he was being funny or really had an itch. 

Then they came to the side pass. Inman lined him up perfectly, but he decided to step through the poles at an angle. On the other side of the poles, he turned his body and took several neat sidesteps -- just to show he could when he wanted to.

Inman said Jiggs had been smarting off all day -- those weren't the words she used, but that's what she meant. 

"He doesn't like to stand still," she said.

He did manage to pick up an award for Best Groomed. Maybe he thought that was enough for one day.

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