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4-H horse show a first ride for many
Excitement of debut for families
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Wearing a helmet and western shirt, 7-year-old Dakari Oliver guided the Shetland pony named May through a figure eight as his mother looked on anxiously during Saturday's horse show at the Chicopee Agricultural Center.

"She did good," the small, bespectacled boy said afterward of his equally pint-sized steed, as he proudly showed off the green and white ribbons he won.

His mother, Rasheeda Swain, said: "I had a lot of anxiety. I didn't realize this was going to be so difficult. But each time he did what he was supposed to do. I was the only one screaming at the end when he placed."

Dakari was one of dozens of first-time competitors at the Hall County 4-H Horsemanship program's 2007 Winter Equine Classic. The event drew 70 participants from Hall, Gwinnett, White and Habersham counties for a combination event that featured western, English, jumping and barrel racing competitions.

For the youngsters, it was their first chance to show off for spectators the three months or more of beginner's training they received, many at Dori Bishop's Rails N Trails Stables.

Saturday's event drew a record number of participants for the Hall 4-H Horsemanship program's chief fundraiser, said show manager Ansley Hayes, 18.

Hall County's horse club, with 40 active members, is at least the second-largest 4-H equine club in Georgia, Hayes said. It draws members from all backgrounds, not just horse owners, she said. Many of Saturday's competitors, ages 7 to 19, rode on borrowed horses.

The mounts, from mixed-breed ponies to quarterhorses and thoroughbreds, were just as diverse, she said.

"We've got horses here that are 2 years old and horses that are 20 years old," she said. And, she added, "With 14 different disciplines, it's just a big melting pot."

Tanya Woodard, an adult volunteer with 4-H, said the horse club was an extension of 4-H's slogan of "learn by doing."

Saturday's show gave the younger competitors their memorable first-time show experience, she said.

"Most everyone likes to watch," Woodward said. "It's the brave ones that get in the saddle and go."

Swain, whose 11-year-old daughter, Melissa, also competed Saturday, said she made "a lot of sacrifices" to make sure her children were able to take riding lessons.

"I did it because they are so motivated by it," she said, adding that she usaed time with the horses as an incentive for her kids to apply themselves in school. Swain noted that the 4-H program had study and public speaking components beyond just riding horses.

"What I'm trying to instill in them, I can get through this," Swain said. "This has just been a great bonding experience for the whole family."