A few weekends ago Gracie Hardeman was running barrels at a rodeo in Winnemucca, Nevada, when her horse slipped and fell, taking her down with it.
Sure, it’s not what’s supposed to happen when running the clover-leaf pattern, “but honestly, that’s kind of like my fourth time having a horse fall over on me,” the 14-year-old said. “You just kind of get used to it.”
Last week Gracie and friend Bailey Chamberland, 15, who also had a horse fall on her while she was running barrels as an 8-year-old, were practicing for a slightly lower-stakes event: the upcoming Teton County Fair.
Set to start Thursday with a 4-H rifle competition, 4-H shows and activities — exhibits hit tables Monday, a full day of horse events is slated for Tuesday, and swine, sheep and beef shows are July 25 and 26 — are intended to “provide an experiential learning for kids,” said Glenn Owings, Teton County’s 4-H educator.
While most of the activities at the fairgrounds have at least an agricultural undertone, 4-H will build programming for any interest, Owings said. Got a group of kids interested in robotics? 4-H will start a robotics club (with the help of an adult leader). The same goes for cartography, natural sciences, wildlife — you name it.
For the fair, though, most of the 4-H events give young ones an opportunity to try on the region’s agricultural heritage. Kids can start as young as 8 and can stick with it through age 18. “Juniors” are ages 8 to 10, “intermediates” are 11 to 13 and “seniors” are 14 to 18.
But part of what 4-H’ers past and present revere about the program is intermingling between different ages.
At a recent meeting of the Teton Range Riders and Wilson Hoofbeats, two 4-H equine clubs, Bailey and Gracie found themselves leading their younger counterparts, a natural progression for the senior members of the program. That afternoon riders were learning the basics of Western horsemanship, Western pleasure and ranch riding, three different show styles that explore riders’ control, performance and maneuverability — and all things the teens had something to say about.
“I see one of those things that I used to do, and now I’m able to be like, ‘Oh, hey, here’s something you can try that’s new and different,’” Gracie said.
Whether showing how to land the correct lead or teaching how to handle an unruly steed, Bailey and Gracie were happy to pay it forward. Just as Gracie’s older sister, Hailey, paid it forward for Bailey.
“I was like, ‘Oh, she’s so cool, I want to do what she does,’” Bailey said.
“That’s a big part of rodeo and horsemanship,” Gracie said. “You’re always looking up to someone better than you.”
That sort of supportive competitive spirit is what keeps the two — and most 4-H’ers — coming back year after year.
“We’re never really anywhere else,” Gracie said.
“This is our second home,” Bailey said.
The Teton County Fair kicks off Thursday.
A full schedule of events can be found online at TetonCountyFair.com.