4-H stays with her
Posted: January 4, 2014
The Winchester Star
Cross Junction — Hannah McDonald can honestly say 4-H changed her life.
Hannah, 19, of Cross Junction aged out of the program in September after 12 years, but she said the mark it has left on her personality, her passions and her future will be with her for life.
“Without it, I wouldn’t have made the friends I have and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to experience the different avenues that 4-H offers in the horse industry,” she said. “It has opened many doors for me.”
The former member of the Golden Horseshoe 4-H Club in Frederick County is a sophomore animal and poultry sciences major at Virginia Tech, a path greatly influenced by her experiences in the club, Hannah said.
Eventually she wants to become a state Extension horse specialist.
While her days of participating in activities and competing in horse shows with the 4-H club are over, her involvement is not since she plans to continue as a mentor to help other young girls realize their passions.
Golden Horseshoe is an active club with about 30 girls, said Rose McDonald, the club leader and Hannah’s mother.
As a mother, Rose is quick to sing her daughter’s praises. As a leader, she is proud of what the program did for Hannah and continues to do for all the girls.
“We are hoping to reach out to young folks and parents to let them see what 4-H can do,” she said.
For the McDonalds, 4-H has been a family affair.
Hannah’s brother Brandon, 13, is involved in Frederick County 4-H Shooting Education, and their father Mark is the coach of the shooting team.
“As a family, 4-H can be as big or small a commitment as you want it to be,” Hannah said. “We have made it our life.”
The two women in the family describe themselves as horse- crazy. Rose was born and raised on a farm in Cross Junction and has been an avid rider all her life. Hannah came along and was on a horse almost as soon as she got home from the hospital, she said. “I never knew anything but horses.”
Hannah joined the Frederick County 4-H Cloverbuds at 7 and Golden Horseshoe at 9. She competed in her first show, the Frederick County Fair Horse Show, at 9 and at the state competition two years later.
From age 7 until she aged out in September, Hannah’s life outside school revolved around horses and 4-H, Rose said.
It wasn’t all about riding, though, her mother said.
The club members do community service projects and participate in public speaking, presentation and equine knowledge and horse judging competitions, she said.
Hannah credits the presentation and public-speaking competitions with giving her the confidence to talk in front of crowds, express her opinions and do well in interviews.
She reached many milestones through the years, her mother said. Hannah has competed in county, district, state and national competitions in a variety of divisions, including showmanship, horsemanship, western pleasure, trail and working Western.
Some of her accomplishments include reaching the Southern Regional 4-H Horse Championships from 2010 to 2013 — either to compete with her horse Mister Cody Image (known as “Cody”) or horse judging competitions; winning 2007 Junior State Showmanship Champion; being inducted as a 4-H All Star in 2010; winning National FFA Champion in Horse Judging at the National FFA Convention in 2012, and winning National Champion in reasons for Horse Judging at the 4-H Eastern National Round-Up Contest in 2011.
In horse judging competitions, 4-H members evaluate a class and must rank their choices for winners and then defend the choices.
To do this, they must understand horse breeds and the terminology for their attributes and to know the characteristics judges should be looking for in the competitors.
“I liked being able to put my opinions out there with my thoughts on how to place a class,” she said. “I learn something new about horses every time I go to a competition or even when I am just helping 4-Hers.”
After aging out of 4-H, Hannah still wanted to be involved in horse judging. She competes with the Virginia Tech Horse Judging team. She also is a coach for the Frederick County Horse Judging team.
Now she is the official who evaluates how well 4-H members can judge a class with the knowledge they have.
Hannah said she loves to share her knowledge and experience with the younger 4-H members, just as the leaders once did for her.
She takes mentorship seriously, and has worked with many of the younger members of Golden Horseshoe.
That includes giving instruction to one of them, Melanie Miller, 15, the daughter of Kathy and Tim Miller of Clear Brook. She joined the club in 2012 and will lease Cody from the McDonalds as her 4-H project horse.
“Hannah is a good teacher. She was able to show me things and prove why those techniques worked,” Melanie said. “If I don’t understand something or am not able to get Cody to do something, she will get on him and show me how to get him to do it.”
Hannah has always loved the idea that 4-H gave her the opportunity to meet and become friends with other people who love horses and like sharing their knowledge.
“It has definitely given me the ability to interact with 4-Hers,” she said, “and because I have that knowledge of the 4-H world, I help them go in that direction, too.”
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org