The DeKalb Doubletrees 4-H Club ended another year of project work with its annual completion show Sunday, held just a month before the DeKalb County Free Fall Fair. Animals and 4-H members gathered in the afternoon at the fairgrounds in Auburn to apply what they've spent the summer learning.
The Doubletrees Club is the group for 4-H members who enrolled in the draft horse 4-H project. Unlike the other animal projects, 4-H members do not have to own the animals they show for the draft horse project. Owning a draft horse is not possible or practical for many 4-Hers, so they are paired with a DeKalb Horsemen's Association member to learn how to show and drive draft horses and mules.
Husband Lowell and son Jeremy are volunteers for the Doubletrees. Four of our Belgian draft horses, Daisy, Hazel, Dan and Lillie, were assigned to 4-H members Amber and Brooke Snyder, Logan Worman and Lucas Pomeroy. They came over at various times over the summer to practice skills for the halter, showmanship, ground drive and hitch classes.
In the halter classes, the 4-H member leads the horse through walking and trotting toward and away from the judge, who is looking at the animal's breed characteristics.
In showmanship, the judge is looking at the 4-H member to see how well he or she is handling the animal. The 4-Her must demonstrate poise, patience and knowledge during this contest, especially if the horse isn't behaving the best or if the judge asks a question. For many 4-H members, winning showmanship is a bigger deal than winning a halter class championship.
In the ground drive, the 4-Her drives a single horse or a team through a timed course marked by traffic cones. Penalties are assessed if the driver knocks over cones, goes through the course the wrong way, or makes other mistakes.
In the hitch classes, the horses or mules are hitched to wagons and driven around the show ring according to instructions from the judge and ringman. The 4-H member must walk and trot the team, reverse course on command, and line up the rig alongside the others for the announcement of the winners.
It's a lot to learn and the size of the animals is intimidating to some of the members. But the adult volunteers of the Doubletrees must be doing something right — the club has seen annual growth since its beginning in the mid-1990s and had a record 26 members this year.
And our 4-Hers proved they could do the dirty work, too. They pitched in to wash these "gentle giants" and comb their manes and tails.